How does an employer go about creating a mental-health strategy? In the case of Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Insurance Board, it brought its own employees into the conversation.

Speaking during an event hosted by Manulife Financial Corp. in Toronto on Thurday, Lilian Riad-Allen, a senior consultant for the mental health and wellness program at the WSIB, said including employees in the creation of a strategy is key to its success.

“Part of the innovation is having the conversations without being afraid to say, ‘We don’t have the answers. We want you to help us create them,’” she said. “Because if it always stays leader-led, we can never diffuse it all the way down to the bottom. We need those ambassadors to help drive it.”

Read: Aligning mental-health strategies to business values key to program’s success

The board’s mental-health strategy focuses on awareness, resources, having the conversation and engaging employees by asking them what is and isn’t working, said Riad-Allen. “One of the innovative practices that the WSIB is participating in right now is updating our current job demand analyses. So we all have a sense of what the physical demands of a job are. You need to be able to lift 50 pounds, you need to be able to climb stairs . . .. But do we know what the psychological demands of the role are? Do we know what our people are exposed to? Do we know what types of things people deal with day in and day out?”

Riad-Allen noted all jobs have psychological demands, and it’s up to the employer to put in protections. So while an organization can build a culture that recognizes the demands of each role and recruit people who can manage them, it also has to build employees’ resilience, she said.

It’s also important to create opportunities for employees who may not be comfortable with engaging in a topic such as mental health, said Riad-Allen. “We need to create grassroots opportunities. We need to give quick tips of things that people can do, best practices that are the quick wins, the little things that everyone can do.

Read: Resilience: your 21st century suit of armour

“And we don’t necessarily say, ‘This is for your mental health.’ . . . It’s, ‘This is what you do to build your resilience.’ But because we all have minds, we all have mental health. And because we all have mental health the way we all have physical health, we need to do the small things each and every day to build those resiliencies.”

As a result, the WSIB is focusing on smaller things that support resilience and a psychologically healthy workplace, such as bulletin boards featuring baby animals and expressions of gratitude. “All these small things that support that psychology and build the culture of engaging in the mental-health dialogue without immediately going to illness,” said Riad-Allen.

“It’s a windy journey. We know it will be. . . . Our training and education will take us to a certain point. Now, where we need to get to and where we need to go on our journey is starting to unearth the yuck and the muck. So, what are the real challenges? How do you talk to a staff member when they don’t have insight to the fact they might be experiencing a mental illness? How do we talk to people when they may be experiencing performance issues alongside mental-health issues? At what point do accommodations need to be considered?”

Read: How psychologically healthy are your employees?

Copyright © 2021 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on

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You may also be interested in this free Mental Health at Work Challenge provided by Excellence Canada, Economic Club of Canada and BestLifeRewarded Innovations. There are over 100 organizations participating already, plus it includes rewards for participating employees:

Friday, September 29 at 12:06 pm |

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