Since it was established in 2007, the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace (the Centre) has been focused on supporting research and reviewing best and promising practices. All of this is concentrated on working to help expand knowledge about mental health issues affecting the workplace, and to turn that knowledge into practical strategies and tools.
From day one, all information and resources developed by or promoted by the Centre had to be informed by evidence. We have reviewed massive amounts of peer-reviewed journals and research documents each year to determine what was new and effective. In a 50-page paper, we may extract only a few sentences that actually provide the foundation for taking action in workplaces. This information is added to or used to update Centre resources.
We have been fortunate over the years to work with excellent researchers and research assistants. In the early years we found a young woman named Melissa Kimber who was doing her master’s in social work. She did much of the early literature reviews for us and would highlight the relevant information. It saved the writers a lot of time and effort and raised the work of the Centre to a level of integrity and reliability that users have come to depend on. Melissa has now earned her doctorate.
David K. MacDonald was Melissa’s successor. He was an anthropology student who used his research skills to help us stay current over the past few years. Although he is now a graduate, he continues to provide support to the Centre.
The Centre commissioned unique research projects in support of the development of resources such as Guarding Minds @ Work. This suite of tools was developed in 2009 in response to the question about where employers should begin in terms of improving workplace mental health and where to invest limited time and resources. This breakthrough evidence-based tool, developed by researchers Dr. Joti Samra, Dr. Merv Gilbert, Dr. Martin Shain and Dr. Dan Bilsker, helps employers assess and address organizational factors that impact workplace psychological health and safety. Each of these researchers has continued to contribute to the advancement of workplace mental health through their research.
Dr. Samra went on to work with other researchers to develop Managing Emotions, which includes many activities to help assess and build emotional intelligence at work. She is also the lead investigator for the Evolution of Workplace Mental Health Report that was released in February of 2017. For this project, Dr. Samra consulted with a number of expert advisors including Dr. Mark Attridge, Dr. Graham Lowe and Dr. Martin Shain.
Dr. Gilbert and Dr. Bilsker managed the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Case Study of organizations who implemented the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. The results of that project were released earlier this year.
Dr. Shain has gone on to write about psychological health and safety, including his books Preventing Workplace Meltdown and The Careful Workplace. He also continues to offer support through his Neighbour at Work consulting organization.
There are many other notable researchers in the field of workplace mental health and we salute all of them for their contribution to providing credible and practical evidence.
Since 2007, the Centre has also invested in numerous workplace surveys and other initiatives that have provided data to help define the issues and identify potential responses to a broad spectrum of workplace mental health needs.
Evidence, however, goes beyond traditional research. According to Mary Ann Baynton, Program Director for the Centre, practice-based evidence can be as helpful as more formal research studies when it comes to approaches for supporting workplace mental health. "Strategies from organizations and individuals successfully improving workplace mental health help us identify practical options for employers." She cautions however that no two organizations are the same. "While our resources are based on evidence from practice and research, it is essential that any strategy is customized to the unique demands, dynamics and realities of each workplace," she said. "Organizational culture, pending changes, the current economy, leadership competencies, and team member interactions all impact the ultimate success."
"Starting with evidence-based resources like those offered by the Centre, which also happen to be free, are an excellent foundation on which to build credible and effective approaches for a mentally healthy workplace."