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The Mental Health Commission of Canada report found that 35 per cent of all employed Canadians feel burned out.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Employers drawing a burned-out work force back to the office need to help managers better address the mental-health challenges and individual needs of employees, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which has released a new toolkit to deal with such issues in hybrid work environments.

“People are struggling within the workplace,” said Tiana Field-Ridley, the senior program manager for workplace mental health at the MHCC, a non-profit organization created by the federal government. “There’s also a whole area of managers that are also struggling. They’ve had a lot of pressures from leadership and then they also have the additional pressures of leading their team, and there’s not that many supports that are available for them.”

The Manager’s Toolkit released Friday presents a range of employee scenarios that usually take place in a workplace, and gives managers advice on how to deal with them.

“The whole foundation of the toolkit is empathy,” Ms. Field-Ridley said.

The toolkit relies on multiple sources, including a Mental Health Research Canada report released in January. Titled Psychological Health and Safety in Canadian Workplaces, the study was conducted in co-operation with Canada Life and Workplace Strategies for Mental Health and based on data gathered online from over 5,500 respondents by Pollara Strategic Insights in November and December of last year.

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The MHRC report found that 35 per cent of all employed Canadians feel burned out; only 39 per cent have been prepared by their employers to deal with the psychological demands of their jobs; only 40 per cent say they have help from their employers in dealing with workplace stress; and only 4 per cent have workplace policies that have adapted with new COVID-19 mental-health supports.

These findings should prompt managers to create work models based on individuals’ particular needs, Ms. Field-Ridley said, especially in a hybrid work context.

“Why are some people choosing to stay at home? Why is it more preferable for them to do that?” she said.

One area of particular concern regarding the report’s findings is the heightened mental-health issues of marginalized Canadians in the workplace, Ms. Field-Ridley said. For example, the report found that only 45 per cent of Black Canadians feel safe from workplace discrimination.

“There needs to be more awareness of what marginalized groups are experiencing within the workplace.”

The new MHCC toolkit covers a broad range of areas, including performance issues, conflict resolution and recognizing declining mental health in employees. Regular check-ins with employees is one of the guide’s consistent themes.

One of the scenarios that the toolkit looks at is if employees are leaving their camera off during meetings; this could be an indicator of mental-health struggles.

Managers should start a conversation with such employees by asking if everything is okay and making sure everyone on the team knows what internal programs are available, whether it’s employee benefits or employee and family assistance programs, according to the toolkit.

Establishing open communication based on trust and compassion is essential to addressing workplace mental-health issues, said Katharine Coons, the national workplace mental-health specialist at the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“We have to make sure we are tailoring our response and providing flexibility of what the actual employee needs, so involving employees through that process is really crucial,” she said. “For a lot of people it’s going to be understanding the need of being back in person and providing flexibility and accommodations wherever we can.”

Providing managers with a better understanding of how to identify and address workplace mental-health issues is “in some ways … long overdue,” said David Gratzer, an attending psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto.

“It’s important for managers to be trained up and to spot problems before they reach a critical stage,” he said. “The workplace itself is very much changed and in flux. It’s a stressful time.”

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