Five tips for successful workplace mental-health training

One of the more surprising results from the Morneau Shepell research report into workplace mental-health priorities for 2016 was the fact that almost 75 per cent of employer respondents indicated it would most likely or definitely be possible to obtain organizational support for a mental-health strategy without making a financial business case. The challenge for many organizations, however, may be in understanding where to begin.

Developing a strategy, of course, starts with knowledge. To get a better sense of how to go about developing a strategy, I consulted three senior human resources professionals whose organizations have taken that step to get some tips on how to go about workplace mental-health training: Pamela Salhani, divisional director of employee relations with the Salvation Army’s Ontario Great Lakes region; Sylvie Latulippe, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.’s director of human resources programs, policies and risk management; and Mary Duncan, vice-president of human resources for the Canadian Automobile Association’s south central Ontario branch.

1. Choose the right type of training:Training-Stats

Courses vary in length from a few hours to several days or more and may include online learning or customized approaches. There’s also a wide range of material to cover. Determine which source provides the most suitable training in the time available.

Read: How Bell trains its managers in mental health

“The important message to trainees is that you don’t have to have a special skill set to support mental health in the workplace,” says Latulippe. “You just need appropriate training.”

2. Lead by example:

Salhani, Duncan and Latulippe all advocate training for leaders in order to make them true mental-health advocates. “If leaders don’t understand how to manage and accommodate employees in a compassionate and constructive manner, there could be a detrimental effect on a company’s bottom line, culture and reputation,” says Salhani.

In the CMHC’s case, president and chief executive officer Evan Siddall is its mental-health champion. “He launched the initiative by sharing his own connection with mental health in a video for all employees and encouraging others to make training a priority,” says Latulippe.

3. Anti-stigma communication must accompany training:

Training should take place in tandem with company-wide communications that stimulate discussion, convey the fact that mental illness isn’t abnormal or the sufferer’s fault and point to available resources. The mere fact that managers are taking training naturally gives rise to more conversations about mental health.

Read: Ontario urges smaller firms to invest in mental health

“The comfort level in speaking about mental health is definitely changing and the value of the course has cascaded through CAA without coaxing,” says Duncan.

4. Provide resources:

If organizations are going to encourage employees to seek help, they need resources to provide that assistance. That means promoting the use of resources that are already in place, as well as new ones, along with ways for employees to access help. Would employees take more advantage of support if it was also available by text or email, rather than only by phone? Do remote employees need access to support via video counselling?

5. Offer the training broadly:

While cost is a factor, the larger the number of employees who take the training, the better the results are for the organization. “Our program teaches practical, empathetic and solution-focused leadership skills that are transferable to a variety of professional settings and situations,” says Latulippe.

Read: Understanding the legal risks around mental health

Training is an obvious place to start when it comes to implementing a mental-health strategy. Taking a cue from those who’ve gone through the experience, however, will help ensure maximum effectiveness.

Paula Allen is vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell.

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