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Fostering workplace connections through mental health education

January 9, 2023

Experts say people are happier and more productive at work when they can express themselves openly, and that with candid and frequent communication, teamwork will prosper.

peopleCare recognizes that workplaces play a vital role in maintaining wellbeing, including by creating safe spaces where employees can freely discuss, address and learn more about how to improve mental health. As part of our ongoing efforts, we’re partnering with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Ontario to deliver Your Health Space (YHS) mental health training and resources in our long-term care (LTC) and retirement Homes.

YHS provides interactive eLearning and live workshops tailored to those working in healthcare, with themes including mindfulness, recovering from burnout, self-care and addressing occupational stress.

“peopleCare was very invested right from the start in securing a partnership with CMHA Ontario’s YHS team that would allow them to develop a holistic plan to support the entire organization in improving mental wellbeing,” says Cindy Pestrak, YHS’s Regional Coordinator for Western Ontario. “They took an intentional approach, using tools designed to engage the peopleCare family through conversations, focus groups and surveys.”

peopleCare was one of the first senior living organizations to implement the YHS program and more than 30 per cent of peopleCare employees have attended a leadership or frontline training session so far.

For Jason Fisher, Director of Programs at Golden Years LTC, the workshop he attended helped emphasize the significance of his role, as a leader, in nurturing wellness at work.

“Staff need to know you’re here for them – daily check ins, asking how they’re doing,” he says. “It’s important they see you not just as their manager, but as someone to offer support.”

A key takeaway for Anabela Henriques, Director of Care at AR Goudie LTC, is the value of empathy – encouraging and sharing the feelings of others – in helping to foster connection between colleagues around mental health.

“As healthcare professionals, we’re very focused on our residents, and for good reason,” says Henriques. “At the same time, it’s important to show empathy to our team members as well.”

The pandemic has taken a significant toll on healthcare professionals who have gone above and beyond to provide care in a crisis. LTC workers are no exception. Data from the leadership sessions revealed 61 per cent of attendees self-identified as experiencing some degree of mental health challenge, demonstrating the need for meaningful workplace wellness discussions and strategies is more crucial now than ever.

“Some people may not be comfortable admitting they are suffering,” says Henriques. “That’s why it’s so valuable to learn what signs to look for and to address them early on so that we can offer them support in whichever way they need it.”

Personal support workers Elana Hayden and Vicky Nolan at Golden Years LTC, who both attended in-person training on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, say they’ve already noticed a positive shift in communication across departments and roles following the YHS workshops.

“Leadership is more in tune and hands-on, checking in on staff and letting us know what mental health supports are available to us,” says Nolan.

Elana Hayden, personal support worker

“It doesn’t just have to be management,” adds Hayden. “Coworkers can also encourage each other not to be so hard on ourselves.”

Hayden and Nolan say they are glad to see mental health training coming forward as it has made them feel closer to their team. Nolan adds that she is pleased staff are being recognized so genuinely for all their efforts in the past tough couple of years.

Along with YHS education, peopleCare’s ongoing Recovering Strong Employee Wellness Strategy in 2022 included participation in a Resiliency Reboot, morale-building team activities layered with a wellness focus, Wellness Champions and the hugely popular Walk to Wellness. Plans for this year include more workshops centred around mental health and other activities based, in part, on results from the organization’s second Employee Wellness Survey, which is currently underway.

“It shows that peopleCare truly does care about their staff,” says Fisher. “It’s nice to know we can be open with one another about mental health.”