Organizational Wellness means Supporting Mental Health

Yesterday I spent the day speaking with and listening to experts and panelists from across the country talk about Mental Health and how to engage Healthy workplaces in 2018 (Mental Health in the Capital 2018 sponsored by The Conference Board of Canada).

As I reflect on what I heard, I’m struck by the concept that accommodating and recognizing Mental Illness, prevention as a necessary and critical step, and beginning to take action beyond talking about it, are all essential parts of building Healthy Organizations with a focus on Mental Wellness. Mental Wellness is what the organizations of today and tomorrow must strive for. Anxiety, anger, depression, harassment, bullying etc., have long been part of our work cultures, however in the past it just wasn’t talked about. We are now talking about more effective ways to deal with these issues and I think the courage and work that has been done around Mental Health in the last decade has been a strong catalyst and advocate for that.

Mental Wellness is Mental Health well supported. I have been struggling to understand where or how the work of building resilience and healthy work places and leaders is any different than accommodating for and speaking about Wellness, Mental Illness and Mental Health. I don’t think they are different—they are all based on a continuum. There is no such thing as a perfect state of Wellness. There is a continuum as to when our Mental Health is in a better place and when it is less better, and the key is in helping us to have the venues, practices and support to be able to recognize when we are less well and to find our way back. There is no “us” and “them” to this conversation.

I was also struck by the fact that much of the conversation revolved largely around organizations and institutions where there are designated functions and resources to tackle this issue and provide these benefits to employees. Many of our youth stepping into the workplace and many self-employed entrepreneurs in our country do not have any access to any support programs. I think that is a large demographic that needs to be considered when making Mentally Healthy workspaces a priority for everyone in Canada.

I am including some of my “take away’s” from the Conference that I hope others will find useful:

  • There remains a need to help leaders become more comfortable with creating the space for conversations around Mental Health and Wellness including managing difficult conversations and addressing behaviors changes or diminished productivity
  • Learning and coping with Mental Health challenges requires action that goes beyond removing stigma. This can include providing practical strategies such as e- learning combined with peer support programs that are organizationally supported (top down) and facilitated by employee’s themselves
  • Organizations must set up for early prevention to be more proactive in building healthy environments. There is now a risk calculator that helps organizations identify the scope of Mental Health challenges they may face (
  • People are at risk when the whole identity of their person revolves around their job and that is a value proposition that will need to change
  • What we are aiming for is for people to be able to bring their best authentic self to work and part of that will be allowing individuals to design their own work day and put them in control to structure their work in a manner that provides what they need for health, balance and self-care. This will require a huge investment by organizations on how to prepare leaders to support and lead at arm’s-length and to shift the concept of trust to empower employees to manage their own productivity
  • There may be a need to rethink how we talk i.e. Mindfulness versus EAP. Stigma is imbedded in historical approaches and labels as well as with the issues.
  • We will benefit from building programs from insights from the next generations and building young leaders’ capacities to carry the legacy of Mental Health and Wellness in the future. Invest in youth champions!

I hope by sharing the conversation continues and builds!

Credit to the all the presenters at the Conference and all the participants for sharing their views and perspectives.