This workplace expert explains how mental health action plans rooted in best practices are needed to improve employee resilience
A 2021 Global Wellbeing Survey conducted by workplace experts Aon found Canadian companies were more likely than their international counterparts to rank employee mental health as a top concern. Fast-forward one year and current industry statistics now reveal that in any given week, half a million Canadians miss work because of mental health-related issues.
With employers and employees both sounding the alarm about the critical role mental health plays within the workplace, the challenge is no longer in raising awareness, but how to channel awareness into meaningful action.
“We know that the pandemic shone a light on employee mental health challenges,” says Erin Dick, assistant vice-president, wellbeing services at Aon. “We continue to see increased levels of stress, burnout, people leaving the workforce, and people looking for alternative options. Companies are acutely aware of this trend, and many have experienced the effects of ‘The Great Resignation.’ The opportunity now is for company leaders to take steps to create a more psychologically healthy, safe, and resilient workplace culture.”
Trends in workplace absenteeism, 2022
Creating meaningful action plans
In today’s quasi-post-pandemic business environment defined by a mix of in-office, hybrid, and remote cultures, issues surrounding mental health can be considered an organizational risk. Dips in engagement, disruptions in retention, challenges with recruitment, and the ripple effect these conditions have across the workplace can affect a company’s ability to achieve its business objectives now, and into the future.
With so much at stake, meaningful employee value propositions and people-centric strategies that safeguard and support mental wellness are more important than ever.
“We spend a lot of time examining and discussing current trends and how these trends will play out in the future of the workplace,” Dick explains. “We also look at what it will take for employers to sustain their human capital over the long term, what it will take for skilled employees to want to remain at their place of work, and how companies can prevent losing skilled talent to the competition.”
Employees that are lucky enough to have a skill set that is in high demand can afford to be selective.
Erin Dick, assistant vice-president, wellbeing services at Aon
Finding resolutions to these issues goes well beyond Band-Aid solutions. “Employees that are lucky enough to have a skill set that is in high demand can afford to be selective,” Dick explains. “They’re looking at more than just salary to evaluate what employers can offer in terms of holistic employee value propositions that are conducive to long term job commitments.”
Dick says that creating meaningful strategies begins with a data-driven approach to understanding underlying problems, and the degree to which deeply embedded practices are contributing to creating a company dynamic that protects employees from excess stress, anxiety, and burnout.
“We need to understand what we’re looking at holistically so we can begin to establish best practices around psychological health and safety within the workplace, and this begins by identifying lag indicators and uncovering underlying problems to get to the root of the issue,” Dick explains. Thoughts from the Aon Team
This assessment piece can involve surveys, focus groups, and digging into company data to uncover key opportunities.
The 4D approach
“We’re very methodical when looking into company practices, problem areas and opportunities, and how goals coalesce with organizational objectives and the organization’s vision,” Dick says.
To achieve these outcomes, Dick and her colleagues implement a four-step, “4D” progression marked by phases titled “Discover,” “Develop,” “Deliver,” and “Determine.” The discovery component is an exploratory piece that involves quantitative and qualitative data gathering to identify opportunities, gaps, and themes around mental health. The next phase, the “develop” component aggregates lessons revealed by the data to form a framework for both a long-term strategy and a tactical plan that reflects employee needs, the company vision, and overall objectives for improving and sustaining workplace wellbeing and resilience.
The next two phases of the process “deliver” on strategy to include oversight and support of governance and infrastructure, policy re-design, program selection, and vendor management, and “determine” the impact of the organizations’ approach on employee wellbeing through benefits and HR data, employee survey data, the program’s level of engagement and footprint, and year-over-year analysis.
“When developing a company action plan, we make sure that across the board it’s grounded in Best Practices that align with the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace prepared by CSA Group and BNQ and commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada,” says Dick.
By adopting these standards, and with help from Aon consultants, organizations can improve talent management, engagement, risk management, productivity, financial performance and more, depending on the depth of the approach implemented.
And while it can be tempting for company leaders to choose to delay change or maintain the status quo, results from Aon’s research on workplace resilience may give them pause.
Trends in turnover
The report reveals that only 15 per cent of employees within companies operating without a focus on employee wellbeing feel resilient, while 45 per cent of employees within companies that uphold broad action say they feel resilient. This feeling of resilience, according to the report, is directly linked to whether employees plan to remain at their jobs. 90 percent of employees that feel resilient say they intend to remain at their place of work for at least the next two years, while close to 50 per cent of employees struggling with resilience say they plan to leave their jobs within that same time frame.
We know from the current data that deepening a focus on employee wellbeing, including psychological health and safety and resilience, will improve workplace culture and company results.
Erin Dick, assistant vice-president, wellbeing services at Aon
“We know from the current data that deepening a focus on employee wellbeing, including psychological health and safety and resilience, will improve workplace culture and company results. By choosing to ignore the critical roles psychological health and safety, and resilience play in workplace cultures and company results, whatever poor performances company graphs reflect right now will only look worse tomorrow,” says Dick. “Every organization, big or small, can commit to evolve the way they look at employee wellbeing, and heighten the focus on mental health. It’s more than a wise business strategy, it’s the right thing to do.”