It is estimated that as many as 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness annually. Providing support for psychological health and safety (often referred to as mental health) in the workplace does not have one clear strategy or guidebook.  

Each workplace will have its own unique response to the needs of their employees. Because of the complexity of mental illness, the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression are often invisible or dismissed as just someone having an off day.  

Even with awareness campaigns around Blue Monday, Mental Health Week and World Mental Health Day, the stigma remains. This makes it difficult for employees to come forward with requests for mental health support. For this reason, it is important to create a workplace culture that welcomes open dialogue around mental health and provides tangible tools for support 

Providing resources that help everyone care for their mental well-being will increase productivity and employee engagement. In fact, a mental health issue is reported to impact a person’s ability to effectively work more than a physical health issue. 

At Diva, we have learned a lot over the past few years on which mental health tools work best for our team. An initial step towards understanding was to establish a baseline of the need and then develop a plan based on that need. While we are still learning, we wanted to share 7 helpful ways to improve mental health in the workplace.

Digital illustration of someone's head with gears to represent mental health workplace.

1. Mental Health Audit

Conducting a mental health assessment, usually in the form of an anonymous survey will provide your organization with a snapshot of the current perspectives of employees regarding mental health in your workplace. Diva drew on Guarding Minds at Work. An assessment like Guarding Minds will provide an overall sentiment score of how well your workplace supports mental health, how employees feel about the services you offer, and based on the results, provide helpful steps on how you can improve.

2. Mental Health First Aid Training

Many organizations offer First Aid Training to employees who wishes to undergo the training, Diva included. More recently, we became aware of Mental Health First Aid Training courses offered by local colleges/universities and mental health organizations. These courses help improve mental health literacy and provides practical skills to support people with mental health problems. Anyone can sign up for this type of course, and often members of Joint Health and Safety Committees and managers participate to better support the needs of employees.

3. Mental Health Education

Whether working onsite or virtual, workshops and webinars are a great way to educate employees at all levels and provide opportunities for additional wellness support. Diva provides an online training course to all employees on workplace mental health as a starting point to further education. In addition to formal training, workshops on mindfulness, strategies for dealing with stress, healthy sleep habits and whole health exercise can help support mental health in your workplace. If you don’t know where to start, check out with some of the free options by MindWell

4. Mental Health/Personal Care Days

In addition to paid sick days, Diva offers employees three paid personal days. These days are designed to provide opportunity for employees to take a planned day to do something for their self care – golf day, spa day, Netflix marathon day – whatever an employee needs to wind down and recentre. It’s not enough to simply offer the days, encourage your staff to take time off throughout the year to avoid burnout. 

5. Promote Confidentiality and Anonymity

While talking candidly about mental health, it is equally importance to balance the dialogue with confidentially and anonymity. When asked, only 23 percent of Canadian workers are comfortable talking to their employer about a mental health issue. Unfortunately, mental health stigma and lack of understanding around mental health can lead to employees being treated differently by their peers and even supervisors. Emphasizing confidentially and anonymity at the managerial level is essential to establishing trust around dialogues of mental health. 

6. Atmosphere and Environment

Creating a safe space for employees to retreat is a helpful way to support mental health in the workplace. For those with virtual workplaces, introducing a company wide mental health or fitness break can provide the same results. Setting up a Zen Room – complete with dimmed lighting, yoga mats, salt lamps and a mindfulness playlist can give employees a place to go if they need to de-stress. Whether in office or home, encourage employees to surround themselves with indoor plants and natural light. Both have been shown to improve mental health and by extension, performance.

7. Over Communicate Support

Ensuring employees know where they can get support is critical to mental health support. Over communicating where benefit information can be found can be a good reminder for self care. In addition to standard benefit programs, consider providing employees with an Employee Assistance Plan or subsidized counselling. In Canada, resources to promote mental health in the workplace can be found below:

Boosting your workplace mental health and employee acceptance and understanding will not happen overnight. It’s gradual and overtime will be adopted into the organisational culture, becoming common and less of a stigma.