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The 2014 conference will take place November 24–26, 2014 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Calgary, AB


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Maximizing the Potential of Employees Experiencing Depression

July 21st, 2014

It is estimated that 11 per cent of men and 16 per cent of women in Canada will experience a major depression during their lives.[1] This is a major concern for employers. Depression can have a profound impact on individual employees and their families, but also on the workplace.

In Canada, at any given time, almost 4 per cent of employees are experiencing a depression.[2],[3] Individuals with depression often experience confusion, listlessness, and difficulties with concentration and memory. Evidence suggests that this can lead to an 11 per cent decrease in their productivity at work.[4] And these cognitive difficulties can linger even after a physician has deemed an employee fit to return to work.

In a Conference Board of Canada survey in 2013, two-thirds of employees who had taken a leave of absence from work due to a depressive episode still encountered challenges with concentration, memory, decision-making, and performing everyday tasks once they returned to the workplace. Ninety-five per cent of these employees also said that these challenges negatively affected their work.

There are a number of ways employers can support employees who have experienced a depressive episode and help them return to productive work. Supervisors and managers need training to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, including depression. This will allow them to direct employees who may be in need toward the appropriate resources. Otherwise, decreases in productivity may be treated as a performance issue, when what is needed is to ensure that employees receive the appropriate treatment, accommodation, and support to keep them healthy and productive at work.

Employees who experience depression or return to work after a leave of absence related to a depressive episode may require additional assistance and workplace accommodation in order to be fully productive at work. Think outside the box when deciding on an appropriate accommodation measure. A private office in a noise-free environment or noise-reducing headphones might be helpful for individuals who experience difficulties with concentration. In order to ensure that the correct accommodation measure is in place, consult with the employee. The employee may already have resolved the issue in his or her private life, and this solution can potentially be adapted for the workplace.

A toxic work environment can hinder an employee’s mental health. If an employee is chronically stressed at work or feels unsupported by his or her colleagues or supervisor, this can lead to the development or exacerbation of a mental health issue. If an individual is returning to work after a leave of absence due to depression, a hostile work environment can also lead to a relapse. On the other hand, a supportive work environment can act as a buffer against stress, even in one’s personal life. To fully promote mental health in the workplace and support individuals who experience depression, employers must ensure that their work environment is supportive and that they proactively deal with conflicts, either between colleagues or with supervisors.

[1] Health Canada, It’s Your Health: Depression (Ottawa: Health Canada, 2009).
[2] Dan Bilsker, Merv Gilbert, and Joti Samra,  Antidepressant Skills at Work: Dealing With Mood Problems in the Workplace (Vancouver: BC Mental Health & Addiction Services, 2007).
[3] Thomas Stephens and Natacha Joubert, “The Economic Burden of Mental Health Problems in Canada.” Chronic Diseases in Canada 22, no. 1 (2001): 18–23.
[4] Debra Lerner, and others, “The Clinical and Occupational Correlates of Work Productivity Loss Among Employed Patients With Depression,” Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine 46, no. 6 (June 2004): S46–S55.

Karla Thorpe

Posted by: Karla Thorpe on July 21st, 2014

Karla Thorpe, Director, Workplace Health and Wellness Research, The Conference Board of Canada

Hit the Pause Button: End of Summer Reflection

August 29th, 2013

By Amy Jen Su, Managing Partner & Co-Founder of Isis Associates, Executive Coach, Author and BWC 2013 Final Keynote Speaker and Workshop Facilitator

It’s hard to believe that it is August 2013 and we are almost three quarters of the way through the year!  At these junctures such as the end of summer, it’s the perfect time to hit the pause button and step back to reflect.  There is a pace and rhythm we get into, and it’s easy in the lull of that rhythm to fall into auto-pilot and to “fall asleep” to what is happening.  The beauty of hitting pause is that we have the capacity at any moment in our lives to self-correct, recalibrate, and make a different set of choices.

We invite you to therefore, pause, pull way back from what you are “doing” and make sense of what you have done so far.

Acknowledge.  What has happened so far in 2013?  What have you completed?  Who have you been with?  What have been your favorite experiences?  Too often, we are onto the next thing.  The to-do list and the objectives not yet fulfilled loom large.  We allow ourselves to believe that we’re only as good as our next gig, next win, or next deliverable.  But in reality, a lot has happened.  You’ve accomplished.  You’ve gained new skills.  You’ve grown.  You’ve met some great people along the way.  Write these down.

Integrate.   As you write down your reflections, consider what you have learned.  What have you learned about what you enjoy doing, what gives you juice and renewal in your life and work?  What skills are you most excited to use now?  How can you update your own perception of yourself to who you are at this very moment?  Pull up your bio and update it.  Add to your resume.  Add to your life vision statement or personal manifesto.  Don’t wait for something like a yearly performance review cycle or the need to do a job search.  Do this, not as an evaluation, but as a celebration and integration.

Notice the blind spots.   As you scan the year, look at the trend-line against the various areas of your life – physical health, relationships, finances, work, etc.  Where have you spent your time and energy?  Is this in alignment to how you want to live your life?  Is there a miss somewhere?  Habits can be hard to break and we are pulled by the gravitational forces of where we are most comfortable or feel safe versus what’s most important to us.  Is there one domain of life you tend to ignore or dismiss when life and work get busy?  How can you bring some additional attention here?

Recalibrate.  Here’s the fun part – we still have more than a quarter of the year to go! For once, time is on our side!  Based on this reflection, where do you want to continue your efforts? What do you need to recalibrate?  What will have to change to make this change possible?  Do you need to make a different set of decisions?  Do you need support from others?  Give yourself permission to stop the hamster wheel and get off.

This reflection can be done from a number of vantage points:  for yourself or the leadership role you serve in, for your team/staff, or for your family.  As you look back, we suspect you’ll be blown away by the creativity and effort that has already been expended to date.  By acknowledging and integrating, you create some space around you to breathe and relax.  With new space, the blind spots and points of recalibration for the year become clearer.  And, with clarity, all becomes possible as you move forward.


For more information on Amy’s Leadership workshop on October 18th at The Better Workplace Conference 2013 in Halifax, Nova Scotia (her first Canadian session) click here. Only $175 if you register in August.


Posted by: hww on August 29th, 2013

Focus: Transforming Overwhelm into Efficiency

August 20th, 2013

By Amy Jen Su, Managing Partner & Co-Founder of Isis Associates, Executive Coach, Author and BWC 2013 Final Keynote Speaker and Workshop Facilitator

In a world filled with endless choice, opportunity, and instant communication, we manage plates too full, run on auto-pilot, and multi-task to keep our heads above water. In our effort to “get it done”, we have lost the joy of the process leaving many things, ironically, incomplete. Yet, research has shown that focus is an essential ingredient to leading a successful and fulfilled life. How then do we build and cultivate the quality of focus?

Make Decisions and Stick to Them

Breakdowns in focus often occur before we begin. We skip the very foundation necessary for true focus to exist – making a conscious decision and then sticking to it. This includes everything – from choosing our life’s work, determining the priorities for our teams, down to what we will accomplish in a given day. Focus begins with setting intentions, declaring our commitments, and then acting directly from these. While decisions are not locked in stone, there is value to making them, sticking to them, and then consciously adjusting them when need be. Conscious adjustment is different than consistent indecision and worry.  A client, Susan, struggled for many years with focus before settling into her current role as a principal in a marketing-services firm. “I’ve always been interested in many things that it has been hard to choose a career path – even now, I find myself distracted wondering if I should be following my life’s passion of working in non-profit.”

Eliminate/Manage Distractions

Maintaining focus is not only hard on the big decisions in life but also difficult in our daily lives as well. After two weeks of self-observation, Susan uncovered two key sources of “focus saboteurs”. First, unexpected requests from other people, which she usually responded to immediately, interrupted her flow of work. Second, she became conscious of how frequently she responded to email to procrastinate on high priority work that she either did not enjoy or required a significant chunk of “thinking time” to complete.

Cultivate the Quality of Focus

Short-term, structures and systems can support our focus but ultimately, we must cultivate the quality of our focus for highest impact. This involves shifting the hard-wiring in our bodies filled with anxiety, tension, and “pushing” to flow, attentiveness, and presence when engaged in an activity. Quality of focus ensures that when we are working on a document, we’re fully engaged in the process. When we’re with our families, then we are fully present with them versus thinking about work deliverables.

Cultivating this quality of focus requires slowing down, engaging in meditative practices designed to build awareness and attention, and quieting ourselves enough to really “hear” what we want. Susan learned that the big paradox in all of this was that by actually slowing herself down, she became more efficient – now eliminating many things on her list that were there because she lacked focus in the first place.

Reflection Questions:

1. In what area of your life would having greater focus benefit you?

2. Throughout your day, what distracts you from your highest priorities or intentions?

3. Throughout your day, what conditions were in place when you experienced great focus or flow?

4. What new systems, structures, or practices could further support your ability to focus?


For more information on Amy’s Leadership workshop on October 18th at The Better Workplace Conference 2013 in Halifax, Nova Scotia (her first Canadian session) click here. Only $175 if you register in August.


Posted by: hww on August 20th, 2013

Psychological health and safety in universities

May 24th, 2013

I have the distinct honour of working with a group of professionals whose roles include supporting or protecting the psychological health and safety of staff and faculty within Canadian universities. Heading up the group is Linda Brogden from the University of Waterloo and Tracey Hawthorn from the University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus. They are definitely movers and shakers when it comes to psychological health and safety. They are not only champions in their own workplaces, but they also serve as an inspiration to their peers in their spare time.

The entire group is comprised of dedicated people, each of whom takes his or her job seriously and seeks continual improvement. We will get together this June in Toronto to talk about both organizational approaches to psychological health and safety and supporting those who may be experiencing mental health-related issues at work. This group will have the opportunity to influence the development or refinement of resources to support psychological health and safety at their work.

Another exciting event related to psychological health and safety in the workplace will be held at the roundtable event prior to The Better Workplace Conference, which takes place in Halifax from October 16 to 18. At the pre-conference roundtable, we will host up to 25 post-secondary professors and researchers, and focus our attention on including psychological health and safety in the business school curriculum. If you are involved in teaching or research at a business school and wish to participate in this invitation-only event, please contact me at maryann@maryannbaynton.com. This pre-conference roundtable is supported by the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace and there is no cost to participate if you are registered for The Better Workplace Conference. And don’t forget that if you have five or more of your colleagues who will be attending The Better Workplace Conference, you may also be able to take advantage of group rates. I hope to see you in Halifax.

Mary Ann Baynton

Program Director, Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace


Posted by: MaryAnnBaynton on May 24th, 2013

Psychological Health in the Workplace

February 12th, 2013

On January 16th, 2013 the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), the Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ), and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) officially released Canada’s first national standard designed to help organizations and their employees improve workplace psychological health and safety. The National Standard of Canada titled Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – Prevention, promotion and guidance to staged implementation is focused on promoting employees’ psychological health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors.

The rationale for the Standard is quite straightforward. Adults spend more waking hours in the workplace than anywhere else – this includes people at risk of, or living with, mental health problems and illnesses. The workplace can an essential part in maintaining positive mental health or, in some circumstances, can be an environment that contributes to the onset or exacerbation of a mental health condition.The health or harm created in workplaces can migrate into families, communities and society as a whole. Mental health problems and illnesses are the number one cause of disability in Canada, estimated to account for nearly 30% of disability claims and 70% of the total costs. If unaddressed, the impact of mental health problems on lost productivity is estimated to cost Canadian businesses $198B over the next 30 years.

The Standard is a guide that offers organizations a structure and process for changing how mental health and mental illness are approached in the workplace. The voluntary Standard is not intended to be adopted into federal, provincial, or territorial legislation. It can be used differently by businesses and organizations of all sizes depending upon their needs. Some businesses may use the Standard as a starting point and focus on creating policies and processes to promote mental health, while others may determine that several aspects of the Standard are already in place and use the Standard to build upon their existing efforts. It is aligned on existing standards and tools and intended to enable both employers and employees to measure progress. In order to accomplish this, informative annexes are included to help users develop approach to implementation and integration. The Standard can be accessed at www.mentalhealthcommission.ca.

The Standard, along with legal and regulatory changes that have emerged in a number of provinces and territories, makes it all that more important for professionals to be well informed and skilled in the area of psychological health and safety. There are a number of excellent practical resources to assist with this including Psychological Health and Safety: An Action Guide for Employers (Gilbert & Bilsker, 2012). This guide, commissioned by MHCC Workforce Advisory Committee, is available at no cost and in both official languages on the Commission website www.mentalhealthcommission.ca. There will be an opportunity to learn more about the Guide as well as a number of other individual and organizational programs, policies and initiatives at an upcoming conference in Banff, Alberta. The theme of the 45th Banff International Conference on Behavioural Science (March 17 – 20, 2013) is Psychological Health in the Workplace.  This event will be of interest to health professionals, human resource practitioners, health and safety experts, employers, organized labour and employee representatives. For further details on the program, poster submissions and registration please visit www.banffbehavsci.ubc.ca .


Posted by: deborahconnors on February 12th, 2013


“This conference is a must for all employers and anyone else who wishes to improve workplace wellness for everyone. “ — Sharon Chernow