When staff and faculty at Toronto’s Ryerson University kick back in their lounge, they can, at least in part, thank the institution’s mental-health co-ordinator for the luxury.

Natalie Roach, the university’s mental-health co-ordinator, notes this year’s $500,000 rejuvenation of the staff and faculty lounge was part of efforts to help put people first, which is a tenet of Ryerson’s 2015-19 academic plan.

“We’ve demonstrated that to students in so many ways, which is wonderful and important, but this was such an opportunity to do this in a physical, real way for staff and faculty,” she says.

Read: 49% of Canadians suffer from mental illness at some point: survey

“And there’s so much research that supports that taking a break at work to rejuvenate, to relax, to connect with your colleagues, to refresh yourself is going to increase engagement, productivity, feelings of positivity in terms of how you view your employer.”

An institutional focus

As mental-health co-ordinator, Roach is responsible for developing, implementing and managing all projects and programs at the institutional level that relate to improving the mental health and well-being of staff, faculty and students.

“I don’t do individual, one-on-one work with staff, faculty or students, with the idea that I’m improving well-being at a more proactive, preventative type of place,” she says.

Impacts of stress on the workplace

24% of employees and 23% of managers used sick or vacation days to deal with stress during the last two years

40% of managers and 34% of employees reported suffering from extreme levels of stress over the last six months

20% of managers and 18% of employees with high workplace stress would be likely to leave their company because of it

Source: Morneau Shepell’s 2017 workplace mental-health survey

Examples of Roach’s work include the development of a program aimed at helping staff and faculty members notice and provide support when someone is in distress.

According to Roach, focusing the role on the institutional aspects gives her insight into what’s happening at the student, staff and executive levels of the university. “I’m able to inform, in a strategic way, at those senior administrative tables, what’s going on in different portfolios and in other organizations that could look like different departments.”

Read: Workplace stress a leading cause of mental-health issues: survey

She cautions organizations about having a mental-health co-ordinator if they’re not ready to integrate the position into decision-making functions.

“An organization needs to be really prepared and assess their level of readiness to have input on and to be ready to view things from a lens of well-being at a really strategic and institutional level. Are you prepared to have that person at your board meetings? Are you prepared to have this person do presentations to your CEO, CFO, and have a seat at that table?”

Considering the big picture

Jordan Friesen, national associate director for workplace mental health at the Canadian Mental Health Association, says organizations should want a mental-health co-ordinator to have expertise about what makes them healthy from a broader point of view. He refers, for example, to the national standard of Canada for psychological health and safety in the workplace.

“Very often, organizations struggle to figure where an initiative like implementing the national standard should fit in and who should lead it. Often, it’s with occupational health and safety or with human resources, but having somebody in your organization who can really be the person to spearhead initiatives around mental health and well-being is going to be incredibly valuable, because it will lend some cohesiveness to everything the organization is doing,” he says.

Read: Getting to know staff ‘one of the biggest things’ for addressing mental health

In Roach’s case, the mental-health co-ordinator position was new to Ryerson when she took on the role in 2015. According to Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell Ltd., it’s rare to see an organization with someone dedicated to just that role.

“It’s actually more common as part of a role. It’s rarely ever a full-time role. Very often, you’ll have somebody who is managing benefits or total rewards, diversity, some other mandate, and this is a part of it. And in order to fill the gap, they’ll often use consultants and other parties to help make sure their impact is a little more amplified.”

Ryan Murphy is an associate editor at Benefits Canada 

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Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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