Do your staff need mental health training?

Lessons in workplace wellness can transform employees into leaders and health champions

Do your staff need mental health training?
Is there a link between mental health, learning, and leadership? One public organization thinks so.

City of Vaughan’s novel approach to mental health has not only made its workers more engaged and empathetic, but it’s aided its efforts to train all staff in leadership skills.

The council has made “workplace wellness” a curriculum component of its massive learning program, for which it won the DDI Canada Award for Best Learning and Development Strategy at the 2016 HR Awards.

Its curriculum spans more than 140 courses, available to every worker, across everything from compliance and accident reporting to leadership style, resilience, communication, and negotiation skills.

The workplace wellness component, which expands beyond traditional occupational health and safety into the realm of mental and general health, is not only making staff healthier, but they’re more engaged and empathetic, with skills to help them cope in emergency and conflict situations, says Kathy Kestides, City of Vaughan’s manager of learning and organizational development.

“We’re not trying to create psychologists, by any means, but the mental health component is really elevating awareness, elevating people’s empathy,” she says.

“It’s taking a very different approach to ‘somebody’s not well, somebody’s ill, somebody’s off today’ and really changing that lens to ‘how can I help, how can I be of assistance, and how can I better understand what the person’s needs are’.”

The council has also partnered with its EAP provider Shepell and Queen’s University to create a program on leading mentally healthy workplaces.

Together, the efforts have made a “huge difference” to the council as a workplace, Kestides says.

“We all work differently and we all have different stressors and pressures, and if we’ve got each other’s back and we have empathy towards that, we create a much more human environment.”

The council has transformed its learning programs from one-size-fits-all to a blended model of classroom, self-directed and e-based learning, among other techniques, with trainers creating resources in-house - a move which has cut costs and made the programs more relevant to City of Vaughan’s workers.

“The strategy has really taken a very experiential, hands-on, gamification-based component to the learning and the curriculum. Staff are way more engaged and we're getting better results at the end.”


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