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4 considerations before adopting a mental fitness strategy

Obtaining an evidence-based baseline provides employers insight into a starting point



EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Mental Fitness: The next frontier in workplace mental health’ is a weekly series, in partnership with Dr. Bill Howatt of Howatt HR Consulting in Ottawa. This series takes a deeper look at mental fitness — an approach to prevent mental harm and promote mental health.


One challenge some employers have is that their approach to mental health is inconsistent. They facilitate random acts of wellness without a plan to reinforce the concept, correct the forgetting curve and provide regular encouragement.

Mental fitness strategies are structured to facilitate the employee experience and promote mental health. They have clearly defined key performance indicators and a built-in program evaluation strategy to measure impact.

Accept getting a baseline is a must

Before beginning a mental fitness strategy — or as I call it a mental fitness journey — it is necessary to obtain an evidence-based baseline.

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The goal is to measure the workforce’s perceptions, behaviours and experience with psychological health and safety and mental fitness.

A workplace assessment must provide employees and employer with feedback to support two-way accountability.

I use the Mental Fitness Index (MFI) to help organizations facilitate their mental fitness strategy by measuring the following:

  • psychosocial factors
  • employees’ attitude around respect and culture
  • employees’ level of concern around stigma and accessing mental health supports in the workplace
  • employees’ confidence in leaders being psychologically safe leaders
  • employees’ resiliency
  • psychosocial hazards
  • perceived value of current programs and policies
  • employees involvement in at-risk coping behaviours
  • productivity.

Obtaining an evidence-based baseline provides the employer insight into their starting point and how current programs and policies are impacting the employee experience.

Accept basic human behaviour facts

Employers can play a major role in supporting and facilitating programs and policies, but they must have a clear understanding and be realistic when it comes to mental health.

No feat of magic nor one-and-done solution will have a long-term impact. Every employee has unique wants and challenges, and many do not trust their employer’s intentions regarding mental health.

These facts can reduce the faulty logic that buying a mental health prevention or support program will fix mental health concerns. However, they can facilitate prevention of, or support for, employees’ mental health concerns.

A mental fitness strategy frames how an employer can support mental fitness over a 12-month period.

Much like occupational health and safety rules govern employees’ physical well-being in the workplace, a mental fitness strategy protects their mental health.

Accept the need to connect the dots

Before designing a mental fitness prevention strategy, review the organization’s objectives around mental health.

Complete an inventory of what mental health prevention and supports programs are in place, as well as leadership support.

  • What mental health prevention and support programs are in place?
  • What is the total spending on mental health programs per full-time equivalent?
  • What percentage of employees are accessing the programs?
  • How are mental health programs evaluated?
  • What is the current ROI for mental health prevention and support programs?

Accept mental fitness philosophy

It is beneficial to adopt the following mental fitness philosophy and get leadership buy-in.

  • Mental fitness is prevention.
  • For employees to buy in, they must be educated on the benefits of mental fitness.
  • Mental fitness enables employees to flourish.
  • Like physical health, mental fitness has no goal line.

Leaders who understand the value of investing in mental fitness accept it as a journey with no ending. Like physical health, it requires daily attention.

Mental fitness strategies provide employees a structure to help them be successful.

Perhaps one of the most important points for mental fitness to be effective is for the employer to accept that it requires employee buy-in and participation.

They must understand and accept that there are no shortcuts to mental health and that the cost of doing nothing can be prohibitive in dollars and lost opportunity.

 

Dr. Bill Howatt is the Ottawa-based president of Howatt HR Consulting and the former Chief of Research and Workforce Productivity at The Conference Board of Canada.


The next article in this series will review prosocial coping skills as a core pillar of mental health and why they are critical to facilitating a successful mental fitness strategy. If there is a particular microskill or topic you would like to see Dr. Howatt write on that supports employees’ mental health in the workplace, please send your request to Talent Canada editor Marcel Vander Wier.