A mentally healthy workforce

The Not Myself Today initiative encourages open, judgment-free dialogue about mental health and mental illness. supplied

The Not Myself Today initiative encourages open, judgment-free dialogue about mental health and mental illness. supplied

How companies small, medium and large can support employee well-being

The workplace isn’t the place for personal problems – or so we used to think. Now, many realize that hiding issues at home is even worse for productivity. It’s why Partners for Mental Health (PFMH) developed a program that helps workplaces large and small to support a mentally healthy workforce.

“Canadians spend more time at work than anywhere else,” says Jeff Moat, president of PFMH. “The workplace greatly influences overall wellness. It can enhance mental health or negatively affect it.”

With a varied menu of materials and interactive activities, the Not Myself Today program offers many different ways that companies can engage their entire workforce around this critical issue. Whether it’s a single 15-minute awareness-raising exercise, a series of videos or multiple stigma-reducing activities throughout the year, there is something for everyone. The following are three companies, ranging from fewer than 100 to more than 5,000 employees, that have successfully implemented engagement activities, each adapting delivery of Not Myself Today to their own needs and circumstances.

David Suzuki Foundation
85 employees

Employees are not just colleagues, but also often friends, explains Catherine Gordon, HR director for David Suzuki Foundation (DSF). Employees are often aware of stresses in their co-workers’ lives, whether from personal challenges or the pressures of caregiving at home. In addition, says Ms. Gordon, staff at the environmental non-profit also report sometimes feeling hopeless about their work fighting climate change.

“As a non-profit, the challenges are always resources, time and money,” says Ms. Gordon.

“However Not Myself Today is very affordable, and the positive response from staff has made it worth the effort involved.”

DSF has been sharing “swag” such as mood buttons, mental health banners and brochures with staff since launching the program in 2013. It’s definitely increased understanding and prompted conversations, says Ms. Gordon. As a result, some are sharing personal experiences aloud, while others are approaching her privately to discuss their options. “Before they may just have gone on short-term disability,” she says. “Instead they can remain at work because they feel comfortable asking for help.”

DSF also encourages employee-led supports, such as weekly meditation sessions and a monthly “Good Grief Support Group” for sharing worries about the impact of climate change.

MHI Canada Aerospace Inc.
700 employees

Jennifer Sprout, employee engagement specialist at MHI Canada Aerospace Inc., says implementing Not Myself Today was made easier with buy-in from the leadership team. Their enthusiasm carried down the chain, encouraging other managers to devote time to the program for their direct reports. In addition to a weekly article in the company newsletter, Ms. Sprout put together an ambassador program. Ambassadors get together quarterly to enhance knowledge and skills, and are responsible for delivering brief presentations about mental health and the Not Myself Today program to their cohorts at regular team meetings.

On rolling out mental health supports in a company for the first time, Ms. Sprout advises patience. “It’s not a message you can just throw out and walk away from. You need to emphasize it over and over until it becomes natural and ingrained in the culture.”

She adds that Not Myself Today provides comprehensive materials for rolling out activities, so expect to spend some time going through it all, especially the first year.

ArcelorMittal Dofasco (Canada)
5,000 employees

While ArcelorMittal Dofasco (Canada), with 5,000 employees, has the advantage of people power, delivering information to this large group can be a challenge. HR staff can’t use common tools like email or internal chatrooms because most employees are steelworkers who work in shifts.

“We needed a program like Not Myself Today that was flexible,” says Katrina McFadden, vice-president of corporate administration and human resources. “It’s really accessible to employees regardless of their schedule. You don’t have to be in an office environment.”
The company launched Not Myself Today’s colourful mood button display at its biennial health and safety fair. During Mental Health Week, HR also set up information tables in the change houses where employees don their gear before each shift. Ms. McFadden says most were quick to warm up to the message.

Many employees volunteered to be champions, sharing the information at events and wearing mood buttons to promote the mental health message with peers. After the sessions, there was a surge in the number of staff accessing the internal Employee and Family Assistance Program, which offers advice on mental health and other issues.

On that note, Ms. McFadden cautions other large companies to be prepared for the success of wellness programming, by having increased resources available to motivated staff.

PFMH’s Jeff Moat explains that Not Myself Today is flexible enough to work for companies of any size and structure. “No company would say mental health isn’t a priority, but there are many other priorities competing for attention too. It’s a challenge for any organization,” he says. “We’ve structured the program so it doesn’t matter where your company is at in its mental health journey; there’s something in the campaign you can implement and make as big or as modest as you want.”

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