How NOT to Deal with Mental Health in the Workplace

  • Health & Safety
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Michelle Ann Zoleta

Michelle Ann Zoleta, Health & Safety Team Manager

(Last updated )

According to a 2022 Statistics Canada report, over 5 million Canadians suffer from a mental, anxiety, or mood disorder. This accounted for about 18% of the population at the time, and numbers have continued to rise since. Despite its prevalence, mental health is still considered a taboo topic in many spaces. Due to its sensitive nature, employers must be very careful of the way mental health is address in the workplace.

How do you deal with mental health in the workplace?

Here are five things you should NOT do when addressing mental illnesses in the workplace.

1.    Not educate yourself and your workforce - According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness annually, and 1 in 2 have or have had a mental illness before 40. With these numbers, it is highly likely that there are employees within your current workplace who have a mental illness. Misinformation perpetuates stereotypes and could bring harm to struggling employees and the entire workplace. 

Leaders and managers who are educated and trained on mental health issues and how to spot telling signs are more prepared to help and less likely to give into prejudice.

2.    Not promote good mental health practices – Helping your employees also means ensuring that you and/or your organization are not a part of the problem. Work-life balance has been shown to increase employee happiness, boost retention, and overall productivity. Having policies such as Right to Disconnect can help encourage work-life balance for employees. Managers should conduct regular check-ins with teams to ensure their workload is manageable to prevent staff burnout. 

Providing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for your employees and encouraging them to access it in times of need is a great way to support struggling employees. An Employee Assistance Program is a confidential service that provides support and counselling to staff and their immediate family members. EAPs allow employees a safe space, free of cost, to express when they are having a hard time or struggling with a personal issue. This includes but is not limited to issues relating to job stress, harassment, financial difficulties, and relationship issues.

3.    Discussing confidential mental health issues in public – The stigma surrounding mental illness in the workplace continues to be an area of concern. Typically, the reasons employees hide their illness is due to fear of stigmatization, being overlooked for promotion or training opportunities, or termination. Discussing or gossiping about sensitive information in public about your workers’ mental health conditions is a major breach of privacy which could result in costly employee claims.

Additionally, under the federal, provincial, and human rights law, employees are protected from any form of harassment or termination relating to discrimination. In some cases, mental illnesses can be classified as a disability, which also falls under the prohibited grounds for discrimination. Failure to comply with the law could result in discrimination claims that could cost your business thousands of dollars and damage your business reputation.

4.    Have poor company culture – While not all employee mental health issues stem from their work environment, it certainly doesn’t help if the environment isn’t conducive to positive mental health. A strong company culture should show employees that you care and encourage mental health awareness. Studies confirm that strong company culture result in higher work engagement, reduced employee stress and depression related to work.

5.    Not have an employee wellbeing policy – Employees are the driving force behind any company, and your most important asset. Having a great employee wellbeing policy will help to ensure they are treated fairly, and result in reduced absenteeism and increased company morale. Establishing a policy will ensure everyone is on the same page and reduce the likelihood of mistreatment of employees with mental health issues.

Your employee wellbeing policy should include and speak to the following:

  • Health of your employees - mental, physical, and safety
  • Social values and principles of the company – including company ethics, diversity, inclusion, and discrimination policy
  • Personal growth of your employees – mentorship, coaching, training, and professional trajectory

The bottom line is mental illnesses are like any other illness and can be debilitating. But you could help your employees feel supported by creating an environment where they feel comfortable and safe asking for support.

Need help creating policies on employee mental health & wellbeing?

We are here to help! Our certified advisors can help you create a policy on mental health, employee wellbeing, and with any other HR, health and safety, and employee issue that may arise. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call us today at 1 (833) 247-3652.


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