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MindsMatter Action: Ottawa Carleton Lifeskills Inc

With October featuring Mental Illness Awareness Week, World Mental Health Day and Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month, better workplace mental health is top of mind for many organizations. CivicAction reached out to organizations to see how they’re taking action. Read what Ottawa Carleton Lifeskills Inc is doing in this Q&A with Greg Swaine, Direct Support Professional.

A headshot photo of Greg Swaine.

Greg Swaine, Direct Support Professional, Ottawa Carleton Lifeskills Inc.

Tell us about a change your organization is taking to improve workplace mental health.

In May 2018, Ottawa Carleton Lifeskills cemented its commitment to providing a safe and healthy workplace for all employees by signing the Declaration of Commitment to Psychological Health and Safety in Healthcare developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). We’re proud to be the first Developmental Services Agency in Canada to sign the declaration.

After signing the declaration, we developed a baseline by surveying our employees using the Guarding Minds at Work (GMW) standard survey. GMW’s survey measures an organization’s psychological health & safety using 13 factors known to have a powerful impact in the workplace. We used the survey data to implement the National Standard for Psychological Health & Safety program and started giving employees the tools they needed the most.

We built a wellness library of tools into our agency-wide software that provides employees with the resources to have healthy break activities, access to health and fitness advice, a direct link to online counselling via our Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), and we launched the Canadian Mental Health Association’s “Not Myself Today” program.

“Not Myself Today” is an online program that provides OCL employees with the resources to foster a safe and supportive work culture around mental health. Using the anonymous employee data and test results generated by the program, OCL can track employee moods and stress levels and react in real time to trending issues that may be an immediate concern. Whether it’s high stress levels, depression, or feelings of low motivation, OCL can provide employees with the tools and resources they need to problem-solve their issues on their own or with the help of one of our 29 Mental Health Ambassadors. Our ambassadors are from across the agency at all employment levels (from front line staff to our executive director). For more severe issues, “Not Myself Today” provides the ambassadors with practice scenario cards on how to best direct employees to seek the professional help they need.

Since signing the declaration and observing the positive effect of the National Standard program, OCL has created a 5-year strategic plan. “Actively living its Culture Statement” is one of its 5 strategic directions. OCL’s commitment to make continuous improvements to the positive mental health for all employees is embedded in this direction.

How is this change positively affecting your workplace culture or your employees’ attitudes to mental health?

While we’re still in the early stages of implementation, when we compare data from our 2017 Culture Values Assessment survey to our 2019 survey, we see an increase in productivity and workplace fulfillment along with a significant drop in employee entropy (fear or friction felt by employees.) Employees have become more comfortable discussing their mental health and their needs in the workplace with their peers and management.

Are there plans for more actions to come? 

Our goal is to stay agile and adapt our programing to best suit the needs of our employees. We are committed to monitoring, evaluating and improving our mental health programing, along with nurturing a long-term partnership with MHCC. This is a journey, not a race. Our focus is in providing our most important resources – our employees – with the services/ tools they need to feel safe and to perform at the highest level.

What does good workplace mental health look like to you?

Good mental health looks like employees feeling safe and comfortable in the workplace; that they are helping OCL live its mission and vision, and that they feel fulfilled at the end of their work day. We also see good mental workplace mental health as when mental health is viewed as being like any other illness, and is openly discussed and tools and resources to get better are openly accepted by employees from their peers and management. We envision a day when the necessary support systems are in place here so that an employee would rather come to work even on their worst day than at home.

Anything you’d like to add?

Our “aha’ moment came in November 2017 when we began researching workplace mental health and we saw the Canadian statistics. We learned the difference between mental illness (1 in 5 Canadians) and mental health (5 in 5 Canadians) and how, if we addressed mental health, we could hopefully prevent mental illness. It then became a very easy decision to build a successful mental health program in our agency.

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