Mental wellness: An excellent healthy workplace investment

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Over a decade ago, the leaders at Toronto East General Hospital (TEGH) identified that a healthy workplace with engaged employees was critical to achieving its long-term goals and providing top notch care for its patients.

As a result, TEGH developed a staff wellness program as one of its healthy workplace priorities. A formal program was launched in 2004 with a focus on physical wellness and workplace safety. Since then, the hospital has supported the expansion of the program to accommodate needs specific to the organization and its employees. Program development has been influenced by staff who have always been encouraged to bring forward ideas and concerns concerning workplace wellness and work-life balance.

Given that mental health disorders are among the most frequently claimed illnesses for all employees, and that people in caring professions are particularly vulnerable to personal burnout, compassion fatigue and second victim syndrome, TEGH pro-actively identified the importance of expanding the program to include support for mental wellness.

“We made the decision to allocate resources to a comprehensive mental wellness program for our staff and have never looked back. The correlation between happy, engaged employees and excellent patient care is direct and undeniable and therefore clearly a benefit to the organization,” says Nancy Casselman, Director, Human Resources, Organizational Quality, Safety & Wellness.

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In 2008, the first Mental Wellness Strategic Plan was developed, focusing on three strategic priorities to promote mental wellness. A major review and rewrite of the plan took place in 2012 to coincide and align with the recommendations of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s new national standard, “Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – prevention, promotion and guidance to staged implementation”. This plan outlines a number of specific and measurable goals the organization will monitor regularly.

Highlights from the Plan include:

Employee training in Emotional Intelligence for Work & Life:  A program that helps staff learn about managing their emotions in key relationships and teaches the importance of active listening and recognizing the value that each individual brings to a team. This is a mandatory four-hour course for all staff during orientation and a full two-day course for new leaders.

Psychological health and safety training for managers and supervisors: Recognizing the impact that managers have on the day-to-day operations of their team, and the key role they play in recognizing and/or influencing behavior, TEGH identified the need for a program that would equip leaders with the knowledge and support they need to recognize and provide support for employees experiencing mental health issues. face training and an iLearn course.

Second Victim Syndrome: Caring for our own:  This peer support program is currently being piloted to respond to the pervasive occurrence in healthcare that occurs when a caregiver is traumatized because of an unanticipated patient adverse event. This support project is designed to help alleviate a caregiver’s trauma, increase self-awareness to promote self-care and provide appropriate resources through convenient and confidential channels. Tactics include mandatory breaks for at-risk staff, enhanced Emotional Intelligence programming and the creation of an online resource bank.

Developing a comprehensive program takes time, commitment and resources, but there are many steps that can be taken early on in one’s journey that don’t require a lot of time or resource commitment. TEGH, for example, as part of an anti-stigma campaign, began with participating in national campaigns like Mental Health Week and Bell Let’s Talk Day to raise awareness and encourage dialogue about mental wellness within the organization. The hospital also partnered with its EAP provider to create and offer an annual Self Care Series of Lunch n Learns, a forum which allowed employees to have open discussion about such topics as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Care for the Caregiver and Burn Out.

TEGH is confident that its investment in employee wellness and mental wellness has been successful and has led to improved employee engagement. This year’s staff engagement results were the best ever recorded. Employees responded favourably to questions designed to measure their ability to contribute and feel valued and the hospital received its highest scores ever for being a good or excellent place to work. In addition, long-term disability (LTD) claims, psychological LTD claims and employee absentee days have all been trending downward.

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TEGH’s efforts to promote mental wellness in the workplace have not gone unnoticed. The hospital received a Silver Award of Excellence for meeting the requirements of Excellence Canada’s Progressive Excellence Program® – Mental Health at Work® levels 2 and 3; the only hospital and one of only three organizations in Canada to be awarded at this level. TEGH was also selected by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) to participate in a promotional video highlighting its commitment to psychological health and safety in the workplace and wellness programming that considers the holistic needs of employees. The video will be released in January 2014 on TEGH’s YouTube channel and posted on the MHCC’s website.

Keeping in mind its commitment to developing and supporting a holistic wellness program that addresses the mind, body and spirit, Toronto East General Hospital will continue to focus on mental wellness as an important component, confident that it will not only lead to increased employee engagement, but will continue to positively impact patient care.