We recently had a conversation with Dr. Sam Mikail, Director of Mental Health Solutions at Sun Life Financial who will be speaking at our Canadian Wellbeing @ Work virtual Summit on October 22 who will proving solutions to the mental health challenges in the workplace.
Our first and most important question is, how are you doing today?
I am doing quite well thanks for asking. Certainly, the past few months have been unusual to say the least. There has been a dramatic increase in the need to support mental health throughout this pandemic. As Director of Mental Health Solutions at Sun Life, I have been giving more presentations related to mental health. In my own private practice, there has been more demand for direct service from people who are struggling with the changes we have all had to make. However, although it has been quite busy, it’s also been very rewarding.
As someone who strongly advocates for workplaces to respond to the mental health challenge, what are the key challenges that organizations are facing at the moment and how can they overcome them?
Most organizations have been forced to adjust the way they do business. In many cases that has meant having a majority of the workforce work remotely. This has been a challenge for managers and teams that rely on teamwork and need easy to access one-another. In other cases, it has meant adjusting shifts and schedules in order to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. Many front-line workers have had to contend with having to wear personal protective equipment throughout the workday.
All of these changes have added to employee stress. We’ve witnessed very real and significant implications to well-being and mental health. People have felt isolated and encumbered by wearing extra protective equipment. We are unable to hug family members and people we care about. We have to work at a distance from co-workers and can’t carry on regular conversations while working. Senior leaders also face the challenge and stress of having to lay off significant numbers of their work force. Business owners wonder whether their businesses will remain viable.
What strategies have you seen developing across Canada over the past 6 months to address mental health in the workplace?
At a governmental level, we’ve seen the Federal government take steps to increase access to mental health services. For example Wellness Together is a portal that provides free mental health support to all Canadians (see: https://ca.portal.gs/). A number of provincial and territorial governments have instituted initiatives to address domestic violence. This is due to increased domestic violence following the “stay-at-home” directives and increased social isolation.
Some employers have responded by increasing the allotment for psychological services in their extended health benefits packages. Other employers have been offering “Lunch and Learn” sessions focused on mental health and stress management. Some have introduced additional paid mental health and family emergency days. The goal of this is to ease the impact of having to adjust the way we work. Others, have increased communication about the state of their business. They do this to prepare employees for difficult decisions such as reducing work hours or instituting layoffs.
What has Sun Life been providing to organizations since the start of the pandemic?
Sun Life recognizes that this has been a very trying time for organizations and their employees. As an integral part of Canada’s health system we’re committed to helping “Clients achieve lifetime financial security and live Healthier lives.” We have remained true to that commitment through a number of initiatives. Our team has compiled an extensive list of resources on the Sun Life website at sunlife.ca/gbcovid19. In addition, Sun Life’s Lumino Health platform offers content tailored to the needs of individuals, families, and people leaders. This includes articles and webinars and app suggestions. A provider search tool to help Canadians locate various health care providers in their area is also available for anyone to use.
What can viewers expect when they tune into your session at the forthcoming Wellbeing @ Work Summit in Canada on October 22?
Our session will provide more detailed look at mental health trends. Trends in general and as they relate to the workplace. We will also provide an overview of what research has taught us about the mental health consequences of disasters. Finally, this session will look at what individuals and employers can do to lessen those impacts.
Tell us, what’s your vision for the workplace of the future with regards to mental health and wellbeing?
As you may be aware, in 2013 the Mental Health Commission of Canada developed the National Standards for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. At this point, the standards are voluntary. A recent survey of Canadian employers found that only 17% have adopted the standards. My vision and hope is that Canada will see nearly 100% adoption of the Standards in the near future. In my view, the Standards are a necessary first step to create an infrastructure that supports employee mental health. However, employers also need to develop a coherent mental health strategy. A strategy that fosters resilience and supports the dignity of all employees. This must be regardless of their role in the organization, ethnicity, or gender identity. Such an initiative should begin by understanding the unique needs and challenges of a company’s workforce. Employers should draw on that knowledge when developing their strategy.
What do you do to look after your own wellbeing and mental health?
First and foremost I’m blessed to have a supportive and caring family. I know I can count on them no matter the need or concern. I am also intentional in attending to my physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual well-being. Emotionally and intellectually, I connect regularly with colleagues for consultation, discussion, and peer support. Those regular meetings both challenge me and contribute to the sense purpose I draw from my work.
My wife and I make a point of attending to our nutrition and going for regular walks. We watch the news together and share our views on what’s happening in the world. But, we also balance that out by taking in more light hearted fare.
As for spiritually, I begin my day with some readings and a time of reflection. This helps me to stay connected to a sense of purpose in my work and life.
Hear more from Dr Sam Mikail at the virtual Canadian Wellbeing @ Work Summit on October 22.