Skip to main content
mental health week

This is the introduction to a three-part series for Mental Health week, May 7-13. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2018 winners of the award at

Register for the 2019 Employee Recommended Workplace Awards

Do you know when someone is having a bad day? Do you notice their facial expressions, body language, even tone of voice and words? Would you know how to determine if they may be experiencing more than stress, perhaps a mental health crisis?

Mental health in the workplace is Canada is real. Each week, 500,000 individuals are unable to work due to a mental health issue. In the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, which generates 20 per cent of Canada’s GDP, half the work force has experienced a mental health challenge. As mental health increasingly becomes a priority for local, provincial and federal governments, more organizations are starting to act to prevent mental injuries and to support mental health in the workplace.

Organizations can impact mental health by putting an effort into awareness and training that assists in early detection, prevention and support of mental illness.

CivicAction has determined in its MindsMatter research that mental health awareness and training are the right first steps to take toward curbing the risk for mental injury and promoting mental health.


Organizations need to provide clear, open communication from the top on why mental health matters. Pat Capponi, a long-time mental health and poverty advocate in Toronto, provides the following coaching to erode stigma: “When senior executives talk more openly on mental health, share their own experiences, and reinforce the benefits of prevention, early detection and treatment, it can help those experiencing mental health issues to ask for help rather than hide what they are going through out of shame and fear of reprisals.”

Mental health training helps to create a culture where employees feel supported and safe to ask for mental health help when needed. At CGI, a global IT consulting company, President of Canada Operations Mark Boyajian says, “At CGI, we believe that information gives employees more control over their health. It provides them with the information to tap into our mental health support systems that can provide employees the coping strategies that can prevent serious mental illness.”

Organizations that foster better awareness through a mix of formal communication strategies and campaigns that focus on lowering stigma and educating employees on available mental health resources via the workplace has been found to be effective in reducing mental health issues and assisting organizations in achieving better business outcomes.


Every organization needs to determine for itself the value of promoting mental health awareness and training. It takes more than words to create campaigns that educate employees about mental health. They need pathways to find assistance such as employee and family assistance programs, benefits and paramedical plans, and community mental health resources. It takes constant follow-through and commitment. This is not a one-and-done conversation; it needs to become a part of the organization’s values and commitments.

“Increased sensitivity, awareness of resources and shared conversations bring real benefits to the bottom line, and more importantly, reassure those who may be struggling that they are valued and seen,” says Ms. Capponi.

Mr. Boyajian adds, “Being empathetic to ones employees’ mental health is a sign of great leadership. Their commitment to being educated on and aware of mental health symptoms will not only positively impact individual employees, but will make a lasting impression on entire teams.”


Commit to increasing awareness and education on mental health and to providing managers and staff training – Inform your employees that mental health is important and what support is available. Start your awareness and training journey off right by simply telling your employees that mental health is a priority for you. Resources like MindsMatter and the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s National Standard provide insights on how to achieve your vision. This first step takes commitment and courage, and is a powerful first step that will mean a lot to your employees.

Ask employees what types of activities/programs interest them the most individually—Engage your work force through surveys, focus groups, polls or other means, to discover their needs and risks and how you can support them. Ask questions around what health issues they’d want included in a workplace mental health program and what activities interest them most. It’s not likely you can deliver everything, but you can go in with a starting game plan and work from there.

Provide training for managers and staff – Investing in training for managers and staff will pay off, as mental health training for managers can in some cases result in a 20 per cent reduction in mental health disability-related costs. Training can come in many different formats, from webinars to conferences to in-class settings that expand employees’ knowledge and skills to enhance mental health support. The benefits of training are beyond just awareness and education on mental health. This kind of training can help prevent mental illness and increase engagement and productivity.

Take the MindsMatter assessment. Complete the CivicAction free, online assessment tool for employers to foster those first or next steps. MindsMatter/SoutienBienÉtre is aligned to the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

Sevaun Palvetzian is the chief executive officer of CivicAction, which brings together senior executives and rising leaders from all sectors to tackle the biggest challenges facing the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area.

You can find all the stories supporting the Employee Recommended Workplace Award