Write, Design, Identify: How to Promote Mental Health

If there’s one thing you learned from running an oil and gas company, it’s that you can’t function without your people. However, employee wellbeing in the this industry isn’t what it once was – especially when it comes to their mental health. Mental illness takes its toll on corporate wellness, both in terms of individuals and the company, but how? And what can you do to help?

According to says Diana MacKay, the director of education, health and immigration programmes at the Conference Board of Canada, ‘[Individual] productivity may go down, but there’s also the impact on the productivity of these other team members and managers.’ Pat Ferris, a partner with the Calgary-based psychological counselling firm Janus Associates, explains ‘It’s OK to have tough management. It’s OK to have periods where the pressure is on. But it’s not OK to work people to death.’ So how do you find that balance between giving your employees challenging work and stressing them to a breaking point?

1. Get it in writing – Have formal policies in place which promote mental health in the work place. Angus Thompson, a research associate at the Edmonton-based Institute of Health Economics, stresses. ‘You want to make sure the rules are really clear and everyone is treated in accord with common decency and those rules, so fairness is a big thing.’ You could include a work-life balance policy that would have provisions for flex time, working from home or personal leave days available to employees.

2. Design healthy and realistic jobs – Ferris says it’s important to make sure workloads are reasonable and that employees have a certain degree of autonomy over their work and receive recognition. You should also include diversity and inclusion training and policies to tackle issues such as workplace bullying and harassment. Murray Brown, vice-president of land and general counsel at Devon Canada, explains, ‘It isn’t just targeting one area like physical health. It’s trying to address all the areas that our employees need.’

3. Identify hazards – Ferris recommends, ‘Start to identify what may be contributing within the organisation to harm mental health. No matter how much promotion of health that you do, if you’ve got a culture that allows injury, you’re going to have poor mental health.’ In the energy sector, workers may have moved from other parts of the country to work in the oil patch, meaning they’re missing the support system they’ve relied upon in their home communities. Therefore, it’s important to tailor your company programmes to fill a gap in community support.

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