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Three steps for building a mental health framework

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

The cost of doing nothing to deal with mental health issues is becoming more and more apparent to corporate leaders. Increased expenditures are being recorded for medications, short- and long-term disability claims, absenteeism and incidences of employees reporting for work while not feeling well or not motivated to perform to their potential – a condition becoming known as presenteeism.

This leadership lab offers leaders a quick guide for understanding and asking the questions required to create a structure needed to positively impact employees' psychological health.

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Today in Canada we have a National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard). The Standard is a voluntary set of guidelines that provide direction for how organizations can proactively curb risk of mental illness and promote mental health. Like any new protocol, some employers are challenged to find time, resources and energy to learn, adapt to and implement the standard. Its design is aligned to PDCA (plan – do – check – adjust), which is a well-accepted, four-step management system often used for ISO certifications.

Following is a three step framework that can be used to facilitate a discussion for developing a mental health strategy:

Preparation – determine the motivation to focus on employees' mental health.

· Establish the key organizational metrics that will be measured and tracked (for example, a decrease in short-term disability mental claims) and the mental strategy business impact.

· Determine if you will be using the standard, some elements of it, or your own framework. It's highly recommended that whatever framework is picked adheres to the plan – do – check – adjust elements, as this is a tested and proven framework.

· Evaluate whether you have the expertise in-house to design, implement and measure the impact of the mental health strategy and programs.

· Complete an audit of all the programs that have been put in place to positively support employees' mental health and their impact. These may include employee and family assistance programs and policies on harassment, bullying and accommodations.

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· It's important to get senior leaders to buy in. They often want to understand the business case and risks if no action is taken. Ensure you have your facts and figures correct.

Survey employees to obtain a baseline – what is the current mental risk, and what factors are contributing positively or negatively?

The purpose of the baseline is to understand the organization's strengths and gaps on employees' mental health. This information is used to determine what kinds of policies, procedures and programs may have the most positive impact. It's helpful to use surveys that can support the design of an action plan that can positively impact employees' psychological well-being.

· One option is to use the 13 PHS factors supported by Great West Life's Guarding Minds @ Work. This is a survey employees do with respect to what they perceive across the 13 PHS factors. It's important to understand that these factors are recommended in the standard but are not mandatory. Every organization must determine what factors it wants to measure and why.

· Another option is Morneau Shepell's Total Health Index that measures employees' physical and mental health, workplace experience, financial health, work-life blending and relationships. Employees get their results in real time in each of the above areas. Employers get aggregated results and additional analytics, as well as a factor five psychological, health and safety analysis of safety, employees, management, culture and strategic HR that is aligned to the 13 PHS Factors.

Design and implement an action plan – Based on the results from the baseline survey, develop an action plan to support employees' workplace experience with the goal of positively impacting their psychological and physical well-being.

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· To be effective, the action plan must define what the objectives are and how the programs, such as stigma and early detection education, return to work, attendance management and retention, will have a positive impact.

· Observe closely the mix of policies, procedures and programs with respect to their primary purpose of prevention (for example, coping skills training) or reaction (trauma management).

· It's advisable to determine the programs for which a return on investment measurement will be required.

· The implementation plan requires clear ownership and lines of accountability, thoughtful communications and expertise to monitor program quality and measuring results.

· This framework recommends the plan – do – check – adjust approach, which facilitates evaluating, adjusting and repeating this process each year.

· Present the results to senior management at least once a year to show the value of the investment, positive impact and areas that will be focused on in the coming year.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto, president of Howatt HR Consulting, and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S.

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