Training, integration and results crucial for company mental-health initiatives

Mental health isn’t fight club — it can be talked about, said Sean Raible, principal consultant at Game Plan Total Rewards, during Benefits Canada’s 2019 Vancouver Mental Health Summit on Dec. 12.

“As a total rewards person, we don’t talk about compensation because it’s under lock and key. But mental health is a community where we can share, be transparent, find the learnings and bring them to the table in an honest, authentic way.”

Two-thirds of people struggling [with their mental health] don’t access help, said Raible, noting mental-health disorders are the leading contributor of disability, at 30.4 per cent. “We know the numbers, we know it’s significant, but what are we doing about it?”

Read: Investing in employee mental health good for business: report

According to Raible, plan sponsors have to come together and look at mental health through multiple lenses. He also suggested some ways organizations can link their business and well-being strategies.

A good place to start is a dedicated diversity and inclusion team, as it can provide unconscious bias training, employee resource groups, inclusive policy reviews and reconciliation road maps to ensure everyone has a voice and feels represented, he said. “[Diversity and inclusion] is an intricate space that’s linked to mental health, so you can’t think of one without the other. Organizations need to think about all of this together and leverage resources and reviews to have a more effective program and results.”

In implementing mental-health initiatives, plan sponsors should also engage in transformational dialogue — continual alignment, planning and feedback loops — with employees because they’re the ones impacted by these policies and programs, noted Raible. An important component of any mental-health initiative is training front-line staff on self-care and supporting others, he added, because it relays how employers can address employees who might be dealing with a mental-health issue.

Another option is to work with employee assistance program providers, noted Raible. “So many organizations spend tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars on this space and don’t leverage any of the collateral that’s available.”

Read: Workplace mental-health training on the rise: Sanofi survey

Another strategy is resiliency training, as it pertains to burnout for an organization, he said. However, he noted there are two sides to burnout: what’s happening at the organizational level and how employees are able to process and get through change. “What is the organization doing to employees? What’s that environment? What are you doing to build up your employees’ resiliency?”

A lot of organizations have intentions for implementing mental-health initiatives but don’t follow-through because they’re too complex, said Raible, noting one of the ways to address this challenge is to leverage all the content and support that’s available. “If you’re not getting it, then ask for it. Providers are part of the family that’s going to help employees achieve better success. It’s critical to work with them to understand how they operate and how you can create consistent experience.”

While integration and results are the most difficult parts of a mental-health initiative, plan sponsors can ensure their EAP and benefits providers communicate their strategies to one another, he said. In addition, data analysis is important. “This is key in order to understand what’s needed, what’s happening and what resources plan sponsors have around that space.”

In terms of disability leaves, accommodation and return to work, employers often don’t know what to do, said Raible, but it’s important to recognize that programs, policies and education in this space are all connected.

Read: Looking to create a mental-health strategy? Ask your employees first

Ultimately, what works for one organization may not work for another, he said, noting plan sponsors must assess mental-health initiatives differently based on their organization.

And a great way to remind employers that mental-health initiatives are more than just checking boxes is to circulate health indexes and surveys to employees, said Raible. These are also easy ways to obtain data on how people feel and whether these programs are working.

“Think about where everything fits in with occupational health and safety and the Human Rights [Code] duty to accommodate — all these pieces that come together. What is our responsibility of every minute of every day as human resource professionals, as an employer, to show up as strong as possible and find ways to be humble when we make mistakes, learn from them, correct and continue? There’s got to be humility. There’s no one out there that’s got it perfect.”

Read more from the 2019 Vancouver Mental Health Summit.