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The business case for banishing the winter blues at work

Is it spring yet?  For some people, cold weather and lack of sunshine can trigger a type of depression more serious than winter blahs. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other mental illnesses are rarely talked about at work and often carry serious stigma for those impacted.

Since the 2013 release of the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace organizations are becoming more aware of both the impact of mental illness at work and of some of the resources available. The standard is a voluntary set of guidelines but is increasingly being adopted across many organizations in Canada.

Impact to employers and businesses

Kellie Leitch, the federal Minister of Labour and Minister of Status of Women, says that the voluntary standard has been downloaded more than 16,000 times over the past year. Employers are voluntarily implementing the standard in part because mental health problems and illnesses are the number one cause of disability claims in our country, representing up to 35 million days off work each year in Canada. (Mental Health News, 2014)

Addressing mental health can help organizations to deal with both absenteeism and presenteeism that impact their workplaces. For example approximately 16 percent of women and 11 percent  of men will face depression during their lifetime. In a 2013 study done by the Conference Board of Canada, depression and other mental health issues were cited as the cause of 23 percent of short-or long-term leaves of absences taken. Survey participants also reported a continued cognitive struggle with work tasks upon return to work. (Presenteeism and Productivity) 

Duty to accommodate

All employers should know that they have a duty to accommodate mental health disabilities and addictions. The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) sets out some of the legal obligations for employers in its mental health fact sheet.  Sometimes a person with a mental health issue may not be able to ask for help. When an employer suspects that an employee may have a mental health disability or addiction and needs help, there is still a duty to accommodate. According to the fact sheet, some accommodations that should be considered are:

  • Increased flexibility in work hours or work leave
  • Facilitating an employee’s access to an addictions program and allowing the person time off to attend
  • Getting information about community resources and supports
  • Depending on the circumstances, job restructuring, retraining or assignment to an alternative position

Resources to go beyond the duty to accommodate

National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace goes beyond the duty to accommodate. Its focus is both to promote psychological health and to prevent psychological harm.

One of the resources available is through Partners for Mental Health. This is a national charity, accredited by Imagine Canada’s Standards Program, whose mandate is to transform the way Canadians think about, act towards and support mental health and mental illness. They have a new campaign, “Not Myself Today 2014” that officially launches April 2, 2014 and ends May 9, 2014 during Mental Health Week.

There are many resources available. Organizations can use the resources to run events and activities during Mental Health Week.  Click here for the link to the campaign: Not Myself Today

Chances are you or someone you know at work will be impacted by mental health issues. Pay attention to your own mental health, to your attitudes and behaviours towards mental health issues and work with your organization to help support coworkers during those days or months where they “don’t feel like themselves.”

Unfortunately we can’t ban winter, but we can try to banish the stigma around mental illnesses.

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Marcia Scheffler

Human Resources Generalist at Wawel Villa
Marcia Scheffler, M.A., CHRP Candidate is a Human Resources Generalist with M.A. working full-time as a Senior HR Officer. She is interested in the intersection of human resources theory and current best practices in HR. Read more
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