Many employers are taking action right now to address the mental health crisis. Your organization can too – with a wide range of supports available from Sun Life
A“one-size-fits-all” approach to workplace mental health doesn’t exist. However, those who’ve already set out to improve mental health in their organizations offer important insights and inspiration. We can learn from their successes and adapt their actions to our own workplaces. The three case studies in this paper give you great examples of what is possible for your organization.
Still, many employers may see addressing mental health in their workplace as daunting. It doesn’t have to be. A successful mental health strategy is within reach of all organizations, no matter the size or available budget. And there are resources that can help guide you.
A great example is our free, one-stop online resource, the mental health strategy toolkit. It guides you, providing practical tools, information and resources. It’s aligned with the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. It also draws on our own experience in helping Clients improve workplace mental health over the past decade. If you haven’t known where to begin, the toolkit is a great place to start.
Support is also available from our Integrated Health Solutions (IHS) team. Our Organizational Health Consultants on the IHS team have over a decade-long track record using best practices to improve workplace health outcomes. They help assess your needs and risks and work with you to develop the best strategy for your organization.
Sun life has been providing organizational health support to our Clients through our Integrated Health Solutions team. Sun Life, as an employer, has also been an Integrated Health Solutions Client for the past five years.
But we do more than just “walk the talk.” We use our own workplace as a proving ground for new, innovative practices in employee health. Our mental health strategy toolkit is a culmination of this test-and-learn approach within our own organization.
The case studies below showcase what’s possible. They highlight our commitment to bringing our tested best practices to you in supporting the health of your employees.
As the case studies in this paper show, a variety of tactics can help improve workplace mental health. But our years of experience have taught us three components must first be in place to achieve success:
A free resource to help you take action
Our mental health strategy toolkit is a free resource. It guides you step-by-step, providing practical tools and resources to improve workplace mental health.
We built the toolkit based on our own organizational health consulting best practices. We know the approaches work because we’ve seen them work with organizations of every size – in every industry. It’s a one-stop-shop that brings together all our mental health practices, tools and resources. It walks you through the stages of building a strategy, integrating access to our solutions. This includes:
Sun Life has a large workforce that represents a cross-section of the many Client groups we serve. Our employee base is ideal for piloting and refining the health innovations that we bring to our Clients. It also ensures that Sun Life “walks the talk” when it comes to supporting and improving employee mental health.
Recent innovations that we first launched, tested and refined at Sun Life include:
For each of these innovations, we developed a “best practice” approach by measuring the uptake and impact with our own employees. Today, we’re sharing these best practices with Clients to benefit their workplaces.
Sun Life has had an organizational health strategy for many years – with a framework firmly in place. To target our programming and measure outcomes, we use an organizational health scorecard with the following data points:
When our mental health claims began rising, we pivoted our strategy to focus on our key drivers of disability.
The results in the case study below highlight our mental health outcomes only. These outcomes reflect our broader multi-year focus on workplace health and subsequent focus on mental health that began in 2016. This aligns with other industry studies showing it can take three to four years to see positive results.1
1CAMH’s Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders; Deloitte, (2019), The ROI in workplace mental health programs: Good for people, good for business - A blueprint for workplace mental health programs. Deloitte Insights.
You likely know Sun Life as a benefits and pension provider and insurer. But we have another important role – as an employer to more than 11,000 employees across Canada.
We faced the same challenges as many other employers in terms of employee health. Specifically, disability rates were increasing, and we wanted to take action.
With mental health-related costs growing, we worked closely with the Integrated Health Solutions (IHS) team to reevaluate our priorities. We wanted to assess the cause of this trend, and importantly, create a strategy to improve employee mental health.
We worked together to assess our current state using two measures. The first was an Integrated Health Insights Report, a comprehensive analysis of employee and organizational health data. The second was completion of our own Workplace Mental Health Risk Assessment.
These measures revealed important areas for improvement:
With the evaluation complete, we worked with the IHS team to identify opportunities and to set priorities and objectives. Here’s how we put our mental health strategy into action:
These initiatives were associated with significant improvements in measures related to employee mental health*:
*Unless indicated otherwise, results shown are based on a comparison of 2017 and 2019 data.
Note: Sun Life’s broader multi-year workplace health strategy supported achieving these results. This is consistent with research that shows it can take three to four years to see positive results from workplace mental health strategies.2
We will be assessing the program’s effectiveness. If the impacts are positive, we look forward to rolling out the program to Clients over the next year.
An international engineering and construction company, with about 1,500 employees across Canada.
The company had a long-established goal to provide employees with the tools to thrive under four wellness pillars: mental, physical, financial and social.
However, with newly appointed senior management, the company wanted to renew their employee well-being mandate. In particular, the leaders were well aware of the rise in mental health issues among Canadians. They wanted to be proactive to ensure they were supporting their employees.
The company enlisted the help of the Sun Life Integrated Health Solutions (IHS) team. The Sun Life team suggested facilitating an organizational health risk assessment, using Sun Life’s Workplace Mental Health Risk Assessment. This would help identify opportunities and priorities for the company’s mental health culture, policies and practices. It would also ensure alignment with the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
The company leaders completed the risk assessment process in early 2018. This process led to significant learning and an innovative approach. However, rather than have the leadership team alone identify opportunities, they decided to run a second assessment – this time with a group of employees representing all departments and groups within the organization.
The assessment with employees validated many leadership perspectives about the organization's culture, policies, and practices. But it also provided insights into gaps, such as mental health knowledge for managers and employees.
Based on the assessment, the company developed their mental health strategy. They also established a mental health taskforce of management and employees to implement and report on mental health actions.
Key initiatives to put the strategy into action included:
These actions have helped the company put itself in a stronger position to deal with the challenges of COVID-19. This includes:
*results are based on a comparison of 2018 and 2019 data
A key support that we offer organizations is assessing the mental health risks that their employees face.
Our Workplace Mental Health Risk Assessment aligns with the 13 Psychological Risk Factors of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. The assessment was created in collaboration with Dr. Arla Day, a world-renowned researcher in Organizational Psychology.
Following the assessment, you are provided with a comprehensive report and debrief. This includes recommendations for next steps. From there, our team is available to help you develop the best strategy for your organization.
A Canadian financial services company with about 2,000 employees in Western Canada.
The company had a solid wellness culture. This included a focus on the three pillars of health: physical, mental and financial. But this wellness focus had not shielded the company from the broader societal trend of increasing mental health problems.
The company’s short-term disability claims relating to mental health had doubled in two short years. During that same period, 42% of long-term disability claims were also mental health-related.
Alarmed by this trend, they engaged our Integrated Health Solutions (IHS) team. They wanted to take action fast, building on their already strong culture of wellness and support.
Shortly after engaging the Sun Life team, the pandemic struck and the company decided to act without delay.
The company’s culture emphasized providing managers with tools to be supportive and empathetic people leaders. And one of the most important tools identified was mental health training. As the pandemic began to unfold, providing managers with this training became even more critical.
Together with the Sun Life team, the company sprang into action to implement a three-phase manager mental health training program.
With the pandemic, and most employees working from home, the role of managers had significantly shifted. Oversight and support were now virtual. Managers needed to understand the unique mental health challenges that employees could be facing given the new circumstances. The training curriculum reflected this new reality.
The three-phase training format was delivered virtually by the IHS team between April and June 2020:
Senior leadership participated in all webinars, but managers did not hesitate to share their comments and concerns. This culture of openness was apparent prior to COVID-19 and had not shifted, even in a virtual work environment.
It’s too early to measure possible outcomes of the program on metrics like disability claims. However, the actions taken have made a significant impact on the organization.
More than 140 managers participated in the training – far exceeding the company’s expectations. That is 140 people leaders across the organization with new skills to recognize struggling employees and support them.
The success of the training program has given the company momentum to introduce more positive change. They have since taken several additional steps to ensure that employees who need help have access to available resources. These include:
In partnership with Sun Life, the company will evaluate the results of its initiatives. This includes monitoring disability claims, benefit utilization, participation in mental health initiatives and employee engagement scores.
The company in Case Study #3 incorporated our free online manager mental health training series into their customized program. These five online manager training videos are available to all employers 24/7 at no cost.
Through self-teaching video modules, your people leaders learn to:
Many benefit plans cap their coverage for mental health practitioners at $500 per year. Often this is a combined maximum – shared with other services like chiropractic care. This often falls far short of funding the number of sessions required for effective treatment.
It’s clear that cost can be a barrier to treatment, as demonstrated by a recent Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) survey. Sixty-six percent of respondents said a lack of benefits plan coverage is a barrier to seeking treatment.3
Increasingly, employers are viewing higher coverage maximums as an investment, not a cost. By eliminating the financial barrier to treatment, they are focusing on reducing absences, lowering disability rates and returning those on disability leave to health and work faster.
The CPA recommends a standalone annual coverage maximum of between $3,500 to $4,000. This amount provides coverage for 15-20 sessions. This is the number of sessions required to achieve a therapeutic outcome for people suffering from depression or anxiety.
32020 Nanos poll conducted on behalf of the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA): https://cpa.ca/strong-majority-of-canadians-want-improved-access-to-psychologists/
These case studies demonstrate the great potential to improve workplace mental health with the right approach. The pandemic has made having a mental health strategy that much more critical.
The results achieved by our organization and others are repeatable. Success doesn’t mean needing a large budget. Leadership commitment, the right data, time and effort, and better use of existing resources can make a difference. A successful strategy is within reach of all organizations. You don’t have to do it alone.
Our mental health strategy toolkit is free to use. It’s based on our years of experience working with Clients to create healthier workplaces. It’s also based on the extensive testing we’ve undertaken within our own organization to find solutions that work. It’s a great resource to help organizations get started, as well as to help employers already on their journey.
For further support you can contact your Sun Life Group Benefits representative. They can connect you with our Integrated Health Solutions (IHS) team. Our IHS team will partner with you to evaluate your needs and help develop and implement your strategy.
We’re here to help. Learn more about these supports and others available to you.