Data and insights will tell you what your strategy needs to address.

While your areas of focus won’t be the same as another organization, there are three key elements we recommend all workplaces include in their mental health strategy:

  • Mandatory leadership training
  • Policies and practices for supporting return to work and accommodation
  • Targeted solutions
  • Key elements:

Make mental health training mandatory for all people leaders across the organization. This includes all levels of leadership - from senior leaders to middle managers. Have your senior leader sponsor champion the training to set the tone and get the buy-in from all leaders.

We have free manager mental health training videos to help you build the foundation.   

Why is training important?

It can help leaders better understand the links between job stress and health. They can also learn what they can do to support and prevent mental health issues in the workplace. Training should also focus on diversity and inclusivity. By including these topics, leaders will be better equipped to meet their employees ‘where they are.’ It will also help them to respond appropriately.

Make the training easy to access and offer it regularly. Focus on base level information. Your goal is to set a foundation of awareness and understanding across your organization.

Measurable benefits  

Researchers at Saint Mary’s University (Dimoff/Kelloway 2013) have shown the potential of mental health training for managers. To learn more about how this can impact your organization read our bright paper.1

A safe and inclusive workplace is key when an employee returns to work after a mental health-related absence. It’s important for employees and managers to recognize that they need to treat and manage employees with mental health conditions like any other health condition. Support and understanding are critical for ensuring a successful return to work for these employees. When handled sensitively, return to work can aid in an employee’s recovery. Returning to work can help build self-esteem, confidence and social inclusion.

Keys to success:

  • coordinated return to work plan,
  • personalized accommodations,
  • access to mental health treatment.

Essential elements of the plan:

  • Share clear policies and procedures based on your organization and what you can accommodate. Document and apply these consistently
  • Communicate expectations
  • Develop modified job duties and/or hours
  • Provide accommodations
  • Prepare for any necessary interventions
  • Ask the employee what they need

Duty to accommodate. Take accommodation seriously. Ensure you have best practices and various options in place

Examples include:

  • reduced hours,
  • slow return to responsibilities,
  • change of job content.

Conduct formal ability assessments for returning employees. Understanding these elements will help you recognize and measure any occupational functional gap. To prepare an employee for a return to their job, it’s important to fully understand:

  • the job requirements,
  • their functional abilities and/or,
  • restrictions and limitations.

Find out more about our absence and disability management solutions here

  • Continued mental health supports. Ensure that returning employees get the mental health supports they need for a successful transition back to the workplace. Privacy laws protect the employee from having to share the nature of their medical leave. However, you can ask the employee what they need to ensure a successful return to work. For example, what type of accommodation will help them? Do they need extra time or a flexible schedule for continuing treatment?

It’s important that employees have adequate psychological services coverage for psychological services through their Extended Health Benefits.

Training: Mangers need to understand their roles and responsibilities in the return to work process. Training ensures they have the guidance they need to support their teams. Focus training on:

  • sensitivity,
  • preventing and addressing discrimination, and
  • understanding your organization’s legal obligations around accommodation.

A note about accommodation: In some cases, this could require the capacity for workplace mediation. For example, when the mental disorder was related to workplace bullying/harassment. This is especially important if the employee cannot move to another business unit/team.

Each organization, employee and situation is unique, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.  You need to have real health solutions that make an impact. You need to determine what solutions best fit your organization’s needs through analysis:

  • What are your policies and practices?
  • What are the mental health needs of your employees?
  • Are employees using the resources available to them?
  • Are there any barriers or gaps in support?

Did you know 60% of working Canadians with a mental health issue aren’t using their workplace benefits? 2 Educating employees about what’s available to them is an easy first step.

Understanding your plan

Is your plan meeting the needs of your organization? Work with your Sun Life Account Executive. Ask your employees:

  • whether they find value
  • how they rate the value

Psychological support and Resources Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP)/Employee Assistance Programs (EAP)

EFAP/EAP are often a great first step for employees who are experiencing mental health challenges. Most of the programs are for the short-term. They’re not intended for long-term use.

Adequate extended health coverage for psychology services is critical. By having enough coverage and flexibility with registered providers, the benefits can cover a full course of treatment. Registered providers include:

  • Registered psychologist
  • Registered social worker
  • Registered psychotherapist. 

Supports for different mental illnesses

People with different mental illnesses can benefit from varying treatment approaches.

For example, there is evidence that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can successfully treat people with depression. It can also be a cost-effective option.

This includes:

  • online face-to-face Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • modular online programs.

From pilot to launch: closing the gaps around access to mental health careThis Bright Paper outlines how online cognitive behavioural therapy and pharmacogenomics can improve mental health outcomes.

Offer supports for employees at different stages in their mental health journey

Employees can benefit from a continuum of programs and supports. This ranges from those that

  • aim to lower the risk of developing poor mental health.
  • reverse or slow down developing of mental illness.
  • help to rehabilitate and treat a specific diagnosed mental illness.

Supports for different industries/workplaces

Consider the type of industry, employee demographics and job requirements when deciding on the best types of employee mental health supports.

Be sure to think about the structures and workplace functions as well. For example, field workers and physical labourers can be hard to reach with typical wellness supports. This is in part because of their scattered and often remote locations.

Workers in remote locations may need to access programs and services virtually. Consider creating a private space where employees can use virtual services. For employees working in the field, you might let them sit in their car while they connect with a practitioner on a mobile device.

Work-from-home employees can also pose unique challenges for the delivery of mental health supports. These employees aren’t connected to the social resources of an in-person team. As a result, they may have unique needs.

If you have any questions along the way, contact us

1Dimoff/Kelloway (2013), Saint Mary’s University

2Sun Life (2019) Sun Life barometer

3Statistics Canada (2017). Health at a Glance.