When CGI Group Inc. launched its mental-health and wellness program six years ago, its primary focus was on education and reducing stigma.

Since then, the strategy has evolved, becoming more data-driven, says Marie-Soleil Ferland, the global information technology company’s health and wellness lead in Canada. To find the underlying issues driving claims, the organization looks at its external health-care questionnaire and data from the employee assistance program.

Read: Managing the employee mental-health tsunami

The results highlighted that mental-health issues should be a top priority, so its training program now focuses on supporting its members through conscious and caring leadership.

Indeed, while mental-health training has traditionally focused on educating people about the issues and implementing programming based on the federal government’s national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace, many plan sponsors are now taking a more data-driven and targeted approach when building their training programs, using plan members’ needs rather than policy to determine programming and initiatives.

Kim Siddall, vice-president of enterprise consulting for Western Canada at People Corporation, advises plan sponsors to take a closer look at all of the elements of their benefits program when designing a mental-health training program. “Consider things like financial and social wellness — all of those things should count in the inventory — then you’ll see where the gaps are and start rolling out programs to support what’s missing.”

Shifting priorities

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic shifted employers’ mental-health training priorities, she says.

As vaccines becomes available and a more normal cadence of life returns, Siddall foresees mental-health training becoming a cornerstone program as opposed to something simply offered through an EAP.

Self-care, dealing with isolation and building resilience have become more dominant aspects of the training, both organizationally and individually. “People will be more purposeful in how they attach elements to training,” she says, noting many plan sponsors have rolled out training for leaders on disability, recognizing the signs of someone who’s struggling and the impact that co-workers experiencing distress may have on the team.

Read: IBM Canada training managers to recognize mental-health red flags

In the last six months of 2020, CGI’s training was centred on leaders’ perspectives with managers trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental-health issues, start courageous dialogue and refer employees to the right resources.

Mindful Employer Canada, a workplace training company, developed its leadership training program two years ago. The organization teaches leaders in-depth strategies for connecting with employees through a more personal touch, says Sarah Jenner, the organization’s executive director.

By the numbers

51% of plan sponsors offer a mental-health training program to help their plan members recognize and appropriately respond to signs of distress;

72% of plan sponsors with 500 or more employees offer mental-health training programs; and

22% of plan sponsors with fewer than 50 employees offer mental-health training programs.

Source: 2020 Sanofi Canada health-care survey

Since the beginning of the pandemic, she’s seen a huge shift in workplace priorities, but notes additional steps need to be taken by employers. “Right now, we’re seeing a call to action for organizations and their leaders to really step up and support their staff. If we go back to a different normal, people are going to look back at these moments and consider how their leaders supported them and stepped up.”

Post-training

After a mental-health training program is launched, it’s important for plan sponsors to assess whether it addresses plan members’ needs, as well as to recognize that this process isn’t a one-stop shop for all.

At Mindful Employer, participants apply what they’ve learned in the workplace by teaching it to co-workers or using it to support another staff member in order to achieve certification. They’re expected to detail their experience and how they can continue to improve upon using the tool or strategy in the future, says Jenner.

From the perspective of using data, CGI Group follows its training by analyzing key performance indicators, disability trends and EAP usage, including frequent updates on absences and the mental health of plan members. Ferland believes it’s crucial to ensure the company’s programs yield results.

Post-training, Siddall suggests plan sponsors survey their members to see if it’s helped. She also points to increases in plan members’ use of the EAP and psychological benefit as indicators that the programs are working and members are willing to reach out for help.

“Do a baseline ahead of time and then check after you’ve rolled out training.”

Lauren Bailey is an associate editor at Benefits Canada.