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The CatalystConversations on Mental Health

MHCC winter mini-guide aims to give workplaces seasonal boost 

In Canada, most people are all-too-familiar with the physical challenges of working through the winter. From dressing to driving, the importance of changing the way we operate to protect ourselves from the cold goes without question. It’s too bad we rarely give our mental wellness the same consideration.

This winter, because mental strain in the workplace may be especially pronounced, employers should be equipped to support themselves and their staff members.  

A new workplace resource
The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC’s) new Mini-Guide to Help Employees’ Mental Health Through Winter offers employers a roadmap to wellness during the chilly season.

“Many leaders recognize that this time of year can be hard on employees. But the tools and resources out there are piecemeal,” said Liz Horvath, manager of Workplace Mental Health at the MHCC. “To help employers spend less time searching for solutions and more time applying them, we’ve gathered a wide range of practical advice and helpful resources in one place.”

The mini-guide lays the groundwork for its recommendations by exploring some of the most common reasons for mood changes in the winter months. For some it’s the lack of sunlight, for others it’s poorer eating habits or reduced physical activity. Whichever factors are at play, it’s their cumulative effect that can make it more difficult for employees to feel focused, engaged, and productive — both inside and outside the workplace.

A season of cold and COVID
This year may be especially difficult for those who experience a lower mood in winter. Some challenges are unique to the pandemic, like nostalgia about life before COVID, while others may be amplified versions of familiar concerns.

“Employees may face increased social isolation, financial strain, or uncertainty about the future — which are all linked to poorer mental health outcomes,” Horvath explained. “Before the pandemic, mental health conditions accounted for around 30 per cent of disability claims. But with the added burden of COVID-19, putting mental wellness at the centre of workplace culture is even more critical.”    

Focus on flexibility
One key theme throughout the mini-guide’s recommendations is flexibility, which, as Horvath emphasized, needs to be tailored to effectively reduce stress. “It’s important for employers to engage with staff to define what flexibility means for each person,” she said, adding that even in fields with more limited options employers can still take steps to ensure that staff have adequate time to rest and are offered leniency when possible. 

The guide offers several suggestions to help employers be more flexible, from allowing workers to modify their hours and focusing on output to identifying key priorities and letting the extras slide when they need some relief. Whatever form flexibility takes, the goal is to promote equilibrium for employees, which will in turn reduce undue stress.

“If we’re running out of energy, we can’t continue to produce at the same level,” said Horvath. “Flexible working arrangements can go a long way in helping employees create balance in their lives and improve their mental well-being at work and at home.”

Guidance for every season
While the guide is presented through a winter lens, its recommendations and resources apply year-round. Suggestions to help employers communicate with empathy, offer the right type of support, and help build coping strategies will continue to serve them long after the ground thaws.

Horvath couldn’t agree more. “By taking steps to foster more supportive workplaces today, employers will help themselves create a healthier, more resilient workforce for the future.”

With the right guidance, there’s no reason for any employee to leave their mental health out in the cold.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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