Understanding the value of psychological services in the workplace

By Dr. Bill Howatt and Louise Bradley

Dolly Parton says, "Any relationship is like a house with an upstairs. It's got two stories."

Telling both sides of the story is what the Mental Health Commission of Canada, St. Mary’s University, and the Canadian Psychological Association aim to do with their latest research initiative, Access to Psychological Services in the Workplace: Employee and Employer Perspectives. Howatt HR lead researcher, Dr. Danya Lee Bagley, is working with them. Over the coming weeks, they will be collecting employers' and employees' perspectives on supply and demand for mental health programs and services in Canadian workplaces.

The leader survey will capture insights on employers' strategic actions, decisions, and investments in mental health programs. The employee survey will capture information about services used, why they were used, and whether they delivered value.

This research couldn't come at a better time

As we emerge from the pandemic and the global economic crisis, many boards are increasing pressure on leaders to manage costs and risks. Investment in health and safety programs, including mental health, is no exception.

In a recent discussion involving a group of senior leaders, almost half indicated that looking at drug costs will be a priority for them this fall.

Recent resolutions announced by the Association of Chiefs of Police based on controlling costs are coming under fire from first responders. One of their primary concerns is that these resolutions will undo years of progress towards destigmatizing and legitimizing workplace-related mental health claims.

Mental health has been at the fore throughout the crisis. As individuals grappled with loss, fear, anxiety, depression, and uncertainty, and sadly, in many occupations, abuse from other people struggling with their own issues, demand for these programs and services has risen.

It was listed as the number three priority among Workplace Safety & Prevention Services 2021 Health & Safety Leadership survey participants. Stress was also a primary concern.

Like many other bodies of research, both the 2020 and 2021 Health & Safety Leadership Surveys reveal a direct correlation between investment in mental health and workplace performance.

Since April 2020, Mental Health Research Canada has been conducting a year-long study through a series of polls to capture Canadians' perception of their level of anxiety and depression and identify and evaluate the factors that influence mental health. In the most recent poll taken in April 2021, the number of Canadians reporting their level of depression as "high" increased by 70%.

We've said before in previous posts that as devastating as COVID has been, it has helped us move the needle when it comes to acknowledging and effectively managing mental health – as individuals and in our workplaces. While the financial imperative of managing costs is understandable and essential, we must be careful that we don't lose the ground we've gained over the last year and a half.

The challenge for leaders is figuring out the type of support that will deliver the greatest value to employees in balance with managing costs and risk to the organization. On top of this, there is the need to continue helping others, including board directors and employees, who aren't convinced of the value of mental health programs, to see that they are no longer a perk, but a necessity in the workplace.

It is a lot for leaders to juggle

Managing the pressures that COVID has presented—all the twists and turns—responding to new health and safety issues in the workplace and feeling confident that you are making the right choices about where to invest and how much is an enormous weight to carry.

The MHCC and Canadian Psychological Association research will provide valuable insights that won't necessarily relieve all of these pressures. However, the findings, which will tell both sides of the story, may help you feel a little more confident that your investments in mental health will have the desired impact on employee health and wellbeing and the bottom line.

Complete the survey now

The Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Psychological Association, in partnership with Saint Mary’s University, are conducting research to better understand how mental health services are being accessed and provided by Canadian organizations.

Your participation in this short, online survey (10-15 minutes) will improve our knowledge of employees’ experience in accessing psychological services and employers’ strategic decisions on providing coverage for them in Canadian workplaces. The anonymous survey is available online in French or English. This study protocol has been approved by the Saint Mary’s University Research Ethics Board (File #21-032).

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