Mental-health focus leads to culture change at CGI Group

CGI Group Inc. hosted its annual mental-health month in May, focusing this year on the support that employees can receive from their employer and their colleagues, as well as how to build a support network.

Although the global information technology company has been running its wellness program since 2004, it began to address mental health in the workplace in 2009, according to Marie-Soleil Ferland, the company’s health and wellness lead for Canada.

“At the beginning we were talking about mental health on the soft side, with yoga and massage days, and then we realized that we needed to have a stronger strategy if we wanted to really help members go through their journey,” she says.

“As we know, mental health is the most common problem in the workplace. It’s really costly to the company and affects productivity as well, so we wanted to make sure that our members are in shape, not only physically but mentally as well.”

Read: CGI Group targets employees’ health goals, action plan in new year wellness program

The increased focus on mental health grew from industry trends, best practices and internal needs, according to Adam Burtnik, CGI Group’s health and wellness co-ordinator for the greater Toronto area. The first step was a look at addressing stigma through a campaign that encouraged employees to talk about mental health.

“They were invited in the same room to share coffee and talk about mental health, and what we have internally to support [them],” says Ferland. “It started our strategy around mental health.”

The program, which aligns with Canada’s mental-health awareness week in May, began this year with an awareness campaign, including a breakfast, lunch or coffee event at each location where employees received their monthly passport, that highlighted all of the activities available at a local level.

The company made a number of educational opportunities available to employees, including a presentation on Alzheimer’s disease to help people better understand the disorder from both the standpoint of both risk factors and caregivers. “So should our employees be dealing with an elderly family member who was experiencing the disorder, they can better understand it and get access to resources through the Alzheimer’s Foundation,” says Burtnik.

Read: How to support working caregivers

It also hosted a caregiver presentation aimed at helping employees to better understand the stresses associated with caring for an elderly family member or someone in poor health. “And again, directing them to the resources that are available to support them within our employee assistance program,” says Burtnik.

Employees also had access to training around stress management, specifically targeting company managers to ensure they’re able to recognize stress levels on their team and subsequently allocate tasks and resources appropriately.

The company also hosted sessions on resilience and coping strategies in partnership with the Canadian Mental Health Association. It tied its employee recognition program, Applaud, into the partnership, committing to donate $10 to the association for every recognition shared during the month.

Read: Apps, peer recognition among the trends in employee recognition programs

“We encourage members to applaud their colleagues . . . because we know that recognition is a very strong, protective factor to mental health,” says Ferland.

“So when you have support and recognition, you are more likely to build some resilience . . . have a feeling of empowerment and value, which is strongly linked with mental health.”

The company communicated the month-long focus on mental health through its newsletter and its internal health portal, which includes a section with articles on the topic. The introductory breakfast, lunch and coffee events were the top way to promote the monthly activities, notes Ferland. “Every health co-ordinator in every province has done a great job in launching the event and promoting the activities.”

GI Group has seen results over the last few years with a visible culture change. Ferland credits the support and commitment from the leadership team, including Mark Boyajian, president of CGI operations in Canada.

“We see that when there’s a commitment from high management, it’s more likely that the members will be inclined to participate and believe in that movement. We see the change in the culture, and it’s great to see.”

Read: Sounding Board: Management style, employee expectations key to supporting mental health