strengths and weaknesses, too.
“The number one thing to do is to actually
look at your own data. What is the
turnover rate? What is the disability rate
and the benefits data?” Add this information
to your survey results, suggests Mahajan,
and you should begin to see the areas
that need the most focus.
“If you’re not actually assessing what
you need and where you have a gap, you
may not be seeing much impact when you
attempt to affect change,” she added.
Despite the prevalence of mental illness,
a 2008 study found only 23 per cent of
Canadians would feel comfortable talking
to their employer about a mental illness.
Part of the silence likely stems from negative
perceptions and beliefs still lingering
in popular culture. There’s a tendency to
whisper about it or just clam up.
“You can’t help prevent mental illnesses
in the workplace without first overcoming
the stigma,” noted Mahajan. An awareness
campaign can right some wrong information,
boost comfort levels with the subject
and finally get people talking.
A campaign could take any number of
forms and might involve print material or
meetings between teams or with the entire
organization. There are also online tools,
including five-minute mini-documentaries
made available through The Great-West
Life Centre for Mental Health in the
Workplace (the Centre). The short videos
are part of a program called Working
Through It and feature first-person narratives
from people who’ve had a diagnosis
of mental illness. In the videos, these people
discuss how they coped, managed at
work, navigated the disability system and
were able to return to work and sustain
“We originally created the videos for
people who may be experiencing these
things in the workplace but we’ve realized
you can actually launch an entire mental
health awareness campaign with this tool,”
said Mary Ann Baynton, program director
for the Centre.
It’s crucial that employees get the same
awareness information as managers, notes
“While it’s not a co-worker’s job to manage
the performance of another co-worker,
it’s within an employee’s power to build
a workplace that encourages respect and
care,” she added.
TRAIN FRONTLINE MANAGERS
Understanding what to do for someone
who might be unwell is a critical next step.
“However, by the time a problem is
brought to an HR professional’s attention,
it’s often at the point of crisis,” said Baynton.
An HR pro who wants to identify and
resolve issues earlier – before the situation
becomes critical – should focus efforts on
training frontline managers and supervisors.
“Most of the time, when we can identify
and support somebody, deal with their
stressors, deal with their triggers, even
deal with the diagnosis of a mental illness
earlier, we can reduce the severity, the fre-
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22 ❚ JANUARY 2014 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL