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Sensitivity grows for workplace mental illness

Mental illness can have a huge impact on your work life.

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Every week, half a million workers in Canada call in sick because of mental health problems.

This can run the gamut from anxiety and depression that workers carry with them from their lives outside work to conditions caused or worsened by the workplace.

Then there's the problem of "presenteeism." The opposite of absenteeism, it's when people show up for work but, because of mental health problems, are not fully engaged in the job at hand. This gets in the way of productivity.

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Yet managers and workplace experts aren't just talking about mental health for purely business reasons.

In a survey of companies, "one of the key pieces of information that came out is that employers have a strong interest in doing the right thing. Nobody wants to come to work and make their staff miserable," said Louise Bradley, chief executive officer of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Yet, even in the most cut-throat business terms, removing stigma and creating a more empathetic workplace allows for more effective, individual solutions, Ms. Bradley said.

For instance, no two workers would recover exactly the same from a physical injury, say, an accident requiring back surgery. Similarly, no two workers recover in the same way from mental trauma.

What this then requires is a more individualized approach and more accommodating policies for helping the employee return to work. The person with the back injury may need an ergonomic chair. But "if I have depression, very few places have an accommodation policy for that. And yet we know that the longer somebody is off work, the less chance that they will actually return in a timely way, if at all," Ms. Bradley said.

So, without accommodating policies, without greater acceptance in the workplace, employers may lose workers and will certainly lose productivity, say mental health professionals.

Klick Inc., a health industry marketing, digital and business partnership company, which has a number of policies in place geared to mental well-being, approaches this on three levels: company culture, programming for employees and wellness facilities. "From a culture perspective, one of our core values is empathy," said Glen Webster, senior vice-president of finance. (Klick spreads its human resources functions across the senior management team.) This means a culture in which the company will even, in extraordinary conditions, assist an employee logistically or financially when facing a problem causing enormous stress, such as the mental effects of a major physical health problem.

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Programming for employees includes talks on mental health issues such as depression, which helps to create a dialogue and reduce stigma, as well as providing events such as a massage day, a meditation club and other wellness programs. The company also provides facilities such as a meditation room.

"We were surprised by employees' hunger for this type of programming, and so we've continued to increase it," Mr. Webster said. Klick is a prize winner of this year's Employee Recommended Workplace Award, acknowledging the company's commitment to health and wellness.

The idea is to create acceptance and to normalize the care of mental health in the workplace, the place where many people spend the majority of their waking hours. "It helps us go further down the road to achieving parity with physical illness, which is nevertheless still not the case in Canada right now," Ms. Bradley said.

Companies can register now for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Award. Visit www.employeerecommended.com.

Read more content related to the Employee Recommended Workplace Award here.

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About the Author

Guy Dixon is a feature writer for The Globe and Mail. More

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