ICYMI: Top Take-aways from WCB Return-to-Work 2019 Conference on Mental Health

Oct 2, 2019 | Other News

How committed is your organization to wellness promotion and illness prevention? Do your leaders foster civility and respect, as well as safety, that serves both to support existing employees and as a strategic advantage? Do you have a formal return-to-work (RTW) policy, and do you consult with affected employees directly regarding the types of accommodations that would work best for them?

These are just some of the many mental health-related topics discussed on October 3, 2019, at the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce second Return-to-Work conference, held in conjunction with presenting sponsor, the Workers Compensation Board of Manitoba. More than 120 HR and health & safety professionals in attendance enjoyed practical, thought-provoking presentations from a group of experts:

  • Darren Oryniak, VP, WCB Compensation Services
  • Jamie Hall, CEO, SAFE Work Manitoba
  • Chris Poot, Manager, WCB Return-to-Work Program Services
  • Rebecca Gray, Mental Health Consultant, St. John Ambulance
  • WCB consulting physicians, Dr. Mitch Cosman and Dr. Prabath Avadhanula

In case you missed the event, access all the complete speaker presentations within the links immediately below: 

Or, if you prefer to skim some highlights, we’ve collected our top take-aways from the event, including some of the valuable guidance, recommendations, and quotable quotations shared by the presenters:

1) Return-to-Work (RTW) as soon as possible after an injury (physical OR psychological) is strongly associated with well-being and recovery. Even if a worker is still experiencing symptoms or cognitive impairment, but stabilized, RTW is key to recovery.
2) The longer an employee is away, the less likely he/she will return. Research shows that the likelihood of returning to work after a 12-week absence is VERY LOW.
3) The RTW Program begins BEFORE the hiring process in the form of your organization’s existing culture — in other words, leaders should be working to foster kindness, respect, empathy, and offer supports and barrier-free accommodations.
4) According to Rebecca Gray, mental health consultant and Mental Health First Aid trainer with St. John Ambulance: “Mental health stigma is dissolving and we need to celebrate that progress! I’ve seen a shift occurring over the past 12 months to two years with people choosing to be talking more openly about their struggles. It is only with these kinds of conversations that we can continue to problem-solve together.”

5) “Mental illnesses are not just psychological; there are genetic, biological, psychological, and social or environmental factors that we now know can all contribute to a mental illness. In other words, we can’t just assume that because there isn’t any family history of mental illness, that nothing will ever change for that individual.” – Dr. Prabath Avadhanula, Psychiatrist

6) According to Darren Oryniak, Vice-President, WCB Compensation Services, the organization has spent a great deal of time creating and documenting best practices. By leveraging the extensive experience of their case management staff who work with industries throughout the province, WCB has created standards for safety and prevention, worker support, and in the return-to-work space. They’ve also concentrated on addressing compliance deficiencies and leveraging penalties, which help to protect workers. And their efforts have paid off — in 2017, the average days lost per FTE was 1.65; in 2018, it was reduced to 1.59, and Oryniak says they’re on track for even further reductions in 2019.

7) Today, WCB is focusing on two strategic initiatives: 1) physician programs called WorkerCare that will offer WCB clients the option to visit designated WCB-certified clinics for rapid assessment and treatment. Oryniak says that WCB has excellent analytics regarding worker hospital and clinic visits, and can focus its program development efforts accordingly. There is only one other jurisdiction in Canada approaching WCB injury care in this fashion, so this is a very forward-thinking approach. 2) WCB is proud to announce that they will be developing and delivering an Employer Return-to-Work certification program, similar to existing SAFE Work certification.

8) Jamie Hall, CEO of SAFE Work Manitoba, says that work is a big part of who we are and that much of our identity is wrapped up in career. Unfortunately, workers report that the workplace generates a lot of stress; in fact, almost 50% of people say that work is the most stressful part of their day. And according to researcher Martin Shain, that stress level is strongly associated with the quality of the direct supervisor. In other words, the burden on leaders and managers is heavy in terms of creating an environment that supports psychological safety.

9) In spite of the related stress, work is also VERY GOOD for us. It strengthens our sense of purpose and accomplishment, and helps us connect with others socially. Employees who go on leave and stay off work entirely for extended periods of time can end up feeling isolated, alienated, and even fearful of leaving what they deem to be a safe space. And it doesn’t help them regain self-confidence and self-worth.

10) Hall says it’s crucial to note that claims in the psych space have doubled (from 0.5% to 1% of overall claims) in spite of the fact that all other claim types have decreased by 15%. Most of the psychological claims are in two buckets: 1) exposure to a traumatic event at work such as a colleague death or major accident, and 2) threats of violence such as harassment, bullying, and actual physical assaults and violence.

11) In 2013, the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Standards Association launched the Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace Standard. Although the standard is complex and detailed, implementing it is an excellent way to ensure compliance with the WCB Act (The Act requires supporting an environment free from harassment, and employers can be held liable and responsible for fostering an unfavourable and damaging environment). You can also download the helpful implementation handbook here.

12) Guarding Minds at Work, a program commissioned by Great-West Life, and researched by CARMHA (Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction at Simon Fraser University), discovered 13 psychosocial factors determined to have a direct influence on psychological well-being. This program (which includes a survey you can administer in your workplace, as well as a comprehensive a set of free resources and tools) can help you put handles on what you can do as an employer to reduce harm and promote well-being (including proper workload management — a difficult one for many busy organizations).

13) Hall says that organizations that are most successful in supporting psychological well-being are those whose leaders appreciate the business case and the impact on the bottom line, but also lead with heart. That may be because of a personal or direct family experience with mental illness, or because they are deeply connected to their staff and personally care about their well-being.

14) “We are all still figuring this out, and we can lean on the trailblazers and pioneers to help us,” says Hall. “Some of the best things you can do, even if you’re a small company, are to provide mental health awareness training to managers at the frontlines, lean on your employee assistance program, build mental health messaging into new employee orientations, and work with your unions if you’re a unionized environment. Build bridges internally and externally between human resources and health and safety, and you may even wish to go beyond your own organization and create best-practice groups or industry groups to work together.”

15) The Canadian Mental Health Association – Winnipeg and SAFE Work worked together in the development of a training program called “A Hazard is a Hazard,” to help employers assess the physical and psychological risks in their workplace. To date, more than 76% of attendees have given that course a “4 out of 4” rating for helpfulness. To learn more about this training and to register, click here.

Remember: Helping someone in a psychological crisis is akin to helping someone who is experiencing a medical crisis. “We need to be prepared to reach out and try, and there are many little things we can do to extend support that can make all the difference in the world to someone who needs us to listen,” says Gray. “We wouldn’t leave someone lying in the street with a broken leg, nor would we ever shame someone for having cancer. So let’s start normalizing the conversation about mental health, and really make a difference to our overall well-being.”

Thank you to WCB Manitoba, Safety Services Manitoba, CPHR Manitoba, Johnston Group, and The Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce for their support of this event.

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