The big reveal: uOttawa research aims to address workplace mental health conversations

A team of researchers at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management are launching a research project aimed at guiding employer–employee conversations around mental health.

Each year, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, one in five working-age Canadians will deal with depression, anxiety or other forms of mental illness. This accounts for about 30% of short- and long-term disability claims, which add up to over six billion dollars annually in lost productivity, absenteeism and turnover.

To help address this, five uOttawa professors — Laurent Lapierre, Silvia Bonaccio, Jane O’Reilly, Magda Donia and Ivy Bourgeault — will take a deep dive to assess workplace conversations around mental health.

Our main goal is to understand how managers can create a climate that makes it easier for employees to talk about their mental health struggles, thus enabling them to receive the necessary support or accommodations,” explains Laurent Lapierre, the research lead. “We also hope to help employees better manage their mental health so they can sustain, if not improve, their interpersonal relationships and productivity at work.”

Supporting employees

The fear of being labelled, judged, and discriminated against can deter employees from talking about their mental health in the workplace. Yet, personal and voluntary disclosure can help organizations provide employees with needed support and accommodations. How then can HR professionals and organization leaders create a work environment where employees feel safe enough to seek support?

“People who experience mental health don’t necessarily want to talk to their supervisors. It takes courage to speak up and only a few do break the silence,” says André Latreille, mental health ombudsman for Public Services and Procurement Canada, whose office is partnering with the research team about the stigma that continues to surround mental health challenges and illnesses.

This project will identify specific ways by which managers can lessen this stigma. The research team plans to offer evidence-based recommendations to employees on when and how to seek support at work and create a road map for managers on specific actions to take to create a work environment where employees feel safe, supported, and accommodated.

The University’s researchers believe the insights gained in the project will benefit employees living with a mental health illness. They will also be a useful tool for HR professionals and organizational leaders responsible for helping their employees thrive at work.

Learn more about the research project.