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This is part of a series examining the mental health experience in Canada's workplaces. Take part in our short survey (tgam.ca/mentalhealthsurvey) and add your voice to this important conversation. This article provides employers insights to help them better support employees with mental health issues. This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award, which honours companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Winners for 2017 will be announced at a HR summit on June 21 in Toronto. Register for the 2018 Award atwww.employeerecommended.com.

How does my organization develop and implement a mental health strategy?

This is a common question among organizations of all sizes. They want to proceed, but they don't know where – or how – to start.

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Related: A step-by-step plan to improve mental health in the workplace

Read more: How any business can improve employee mental health

Often, leaders will look to external resources. Awareness about mental health has spurred the creation of a number of programs and tools, some are free while others require companies to pay.

This article offers decision makers factors to consider before hiring an external resource to develop a mental health strategy.

Awareness

In the last five years in Canada, the mental health conversation has become a much more positive dialogue. Many organizations and senior leaders are fostering a supportive culture by bringing this awareness into the workplace.

Demand is on the rise for new tools and resources, and for professionals specialized in improving workplace culture to curb mental health problems and promote mental wellness.

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Consider that in one-on-one mental health therapy, practitioners must have a minimum of a master's degree, a professional designation and malpractice insurance before a client can walk through the door. By contrast, the mental health consulting space is not regulated, therefore the onus of due diligence rests with the hiring organization. Why? Put simply, anyone can create a product or solution and hang out their shingle as a "workplace mental health expert." Given that there is no regulatory body, when seeking out an external resource, buyer beware.

Accountability

The person responsible for hiring an external resource is accountable for the selection. A set of criteria should be established to determine why a particular resource is competent and qualified.

If an organization's first experience with mental health strategy development be onerous or ineffective, that negative impression can make it harder to try again.

When planning to allocate resources, consider how the organization will measure results and financial impact for every dollar spent on promotion, prevention and intervention. It is far easier to create a program evaluation methodology before starting than it is after the fact. Adhering to a disciplined approach will strengthen an ongoing business case.

Action

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This advice can be used to establish a hiring decision tree:

1. Use trusted, free public domain resources. The resources listed below can help shape and support a mental health strategy. Open communication and education can help decrease stigma. Frank dialogue can help employees understand they "own" their personal mental health and explain the tangible actions they can take to support their mental wellness in the workplace:

a. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has created a library of free resources, videos and guides to support employers interested in exploring how to adopt the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard).

b. Guarding Minds @ Work, an initiative undertaken by the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction at Simon Fraser University, includes tools to support implementation of the Standard and how to measure the 13 psychosocial factors known to have a powerful impact on organizational health.

c. The Globe and Mail Your Life at Work Survey lets employees self-evaluate their coping skills and provides articles on improving those skills.

d. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell Employee Recommended Workplace Award provides an approach for preventing and supporting employee with mental health problems and illnesses. This award provides both the employer and employees the opportunity to obtain their total health baseline (examining the pillars of physical, mental, work, and life health) and offers access to free articles on coping skills and other tools. This can help start the conversation around two-way accountability – in other words how both employer and employee can promote and achieve total health.

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2. Do your due diligence:

a. Set realistic expectations for what you want before starting your process – This can be used in your evaluation and how you will measure success.

One coping skills program was offered to 1,000 employees. A self-evaluation activity revealed that 15 per cent of employees wanted to participate in an online program and 110 employees (11 per cent) completed the three-month program and provided feedback to help curb absenteeism, presenteeism and short-term disability losses. But this alone does not mean success. Program impact requires evaluating outcomes of the people who started the program against those who didn't complete it, to determine whether the program had any measurable, incremental positive impact.

b. Do your homework before making a buying decision – Review any relevant case studies, white papers, marketing materials, presentations, testimonials, and how the product or service evaluates success.

A credible program or provider can teach their theory and demonstrate their credibility in a simple conversation. They can explain why their offering works, what it is, and how it will be implemented and measured.

c. Define hiring criteria – When hiring a service, set your professional expectations around standards to support employees' mental health.

Saying one knows how to fix a car is easy, but without expertise and training, the car may never start. A service with evidence-based results will enable consultants to explain how their personal and professional credentials make them qualified to support employees' mental health in the relevant application, such as strategy, prevention, early intervention and treatment.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

Louise Bradley is CEO and President of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Add your voice and take part in our short mental health survey: (tgam.ca/mentalhealthsurvey)

Learn who the finalists are for the 2017 Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

Buy tickets to the HR Summit on June 21, Solving Workplace Challenges in the Modern Economy at The Globe's new headquarters in Toronto, where the grand prize winners of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award will be announced.

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