At GE Canada, the word “ally” is not a title, it’s an action.
The company’s vision to create a nurturing, stigma-free, and respectful work environment for their 6500 employees has found some of its greatest success through a new Mental Health Ally program.
In 2013, the company brought together health and safety and HR professionals in the organization to have a conversation about workplace culture at GE Canada. When it came to long term disability and pharmaceutical claims, mental health related challenges were the number one issue in frequency and severity. Too many employees were struggling, and that meant profits, productivity and morale were being impacted too.
Since then GE Canada has significantly reduced absenteeism, saved millions in long-term costs, improved manager skills, and reaped the benefits of greater employee engagement.
A major contributor? Peer support and allyship.
After conducting a Guarding Minds@Work survey, GE Canada held facilitated sessions with staff to talk openly about mental health and guide the development of action plans for the organization. One of those involved piloting a Mental Health Ally program at their Meadowvale facility just west of Toronto. Two years in, the program is now an in-demand support system that has expanded to other facilities and is accessible across GE Canada businesses.
The program trains GE Canada employees to become designated “go-to” persons for staff struggling with their mental health. During a two-day training program, allies engage in scenario-based role play, applying strategies they’ve learned to support co-worker mental health in small groups. At the end of training, allies develop personal development plans to chart their path forward as effective supports for their peers.
According to GE Canada, allies tend to be employees with superb listening skills, the ability to handle stress, and enjoy high levels of empathy and emotional intelligence.
Allies work across GE Canada business portfolios to support their colleagues. That means a struggling employee who might be uncomfortable looking to their immediate colleagues for support can reach outside of their business unit to a Mental Health Ally and arrange a phone call, skype or in-person meeting. Through GE Canada’s Global Address System, employees can search for Mental Health Allies and easily start a conversation.
A number of allies are GE Canada employees with lived experience with mental health issues and mental illness. Now that they are healthy enough to get back to work, these employees are paying forward their knowledge of navigating support systems and offering much needed understanding to co-workers at the beginning of their journey to recovery.
Though the role of ally can be a challenging one, the impact of the program continues to drive its success. Initially agreeing to a one-year commitment, most Mental Health Allies have continued well beyond the one year mark, and many have committed to the program indefinitely.
The dedication of allies embodies a company-wide success story where healthier employees have created a more productive, honest, and dynamic workplace.
An estimated 1 in 2 people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area’s labour force alone have experienced a mental health issue. Ignite mental health support in your workplace by taking the free, online MindsMatter/SoutienBienÉtre assessment today.