Workplace culture touted as beneficial for return to work

For employees who have been away from the workplace due to mental illness, providing treatment, reducing stigma and getting employees back to work comes down to workplace culture.

“Very simply put, employees who feel valued and supported by their employers return to work,” said Michelle Harper, director of national best practices, wellness, disability and life at Manulife Financial Corp., at Benefits Canada’s 2018 Mental Health Summit Toronto on Nov. 12.

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

Harper said she hears a lot about people being afraid to talk to their employers about mental-health issues because of the perceived repercussions. “They use words like, ‘I’ll get fired if I talk about this,’ or ‘I won’t receive that promotion.’ It’s amazing when we’re talking about having that conversation, thinking about workplace culture. I think, as leaders, we can move quickly to a performance issue, but if we can identify these scenarios early on and have proper conversations with people, then it reduces that fear or stigma. That’s a big component to what has to be part of the conversation.”

Therapy must also include methodology around return to work, she noted. For example, if an organization’s strategy around returning to work is only added at the end of treatment, there tends to be relapses or increases in symptoms. As well, Harper said there’s a greater chance of recovery and return to work when all stakeholders are connected, including the employer, the treatment providers and anyone else who’s involved in care.

Read: Best practices for return-to-work committees

Also speaking during the session, Adelaine Thomas, a mental-health specialist on the national best practices team at Manulife, shared the details of a pilot project between Manulife, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the University Health Network and Altum Health. The project combines treatment from a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist with occupational therapy.

“The sessions take place at a clinic site and [plan members] can see any or all of the clinicians in person or virtually, depending on the location they are in Ontario,” said Thomas, noting it’s a 16-week program that primarily treats depression along with some co-morbidities.

“It’s return-to-work focused, with [members] setting the goal of return to work at the onset of the claim. So it doesn’t come as a surprise when they go into treatment. And close collaboration with the insurer, so that all stakeholders involved are working together towards the same goal.”

These types of programs are important because they address barriers in access to care, such as distance and availability, as well as ensuring all stakeholders are working together, added Thomas.

Read more coverage from the 2018 Mental Health Summit.