There are practical things we can start to integrate into the workplace culture. 

By:Bill Zolis

I think by now we all agree that safeguarding employee mental wellness is the key to building a positive and productive work environment.  

Or wait… Do we have that backwards? 

Should we be thinking along the lines that building a positive and productive work environment is the key to safeguarding employee mental wellness? 

The point is, I think, that it flows both ways.  

Mental wellness and how it fits into the big picture are important topics right now that everyone seems to be discussing. When I talk to clients about this, the questions that seem to come up usually boil down to a simple “What should we be doing?” 

From what I’m reading, and what I’m hearing in discussions with clients and people in the industry, I think we can say that a couple of basic principles seem to be taking shape with regard to what we should be doing. 

  1. The workplace – the employer – should do everything in its power to build a culture in which the mental well-being of employees is taken into consideration.
  2. The workplace itself should be a safe place that provides confidential support for employees dealing with mental wellness issues.

In other words, first, let’s make sure we are not creating any problems and, second, let’s see what we can do to help with any problems that do exist. It’s not just about adding programs and services to the existing workplace. It’s about building out employee resources consistent with a vision of the well workplace.  

We’ve talked about “the well workplace” many times in this blog, and mental wellness, in all its forms, is a very big part of the overall picture.  

So, what are the practical things that we can start integrating into the workplace? Here are some of the things I’m hearing most often. 

– Remove any fear of stigma from the mental wellness equation. I just read that in a 2019 survey by Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 75% of respondents said they would be reluctant to reveal a mental illness to their coworkers or employer. Part of that, I think, is a matter of definitions and perceptions – if you are going through a period in which you are struggling with excessive stress, that doesn’t mean that you are mentally ill, it just means that your mental wellness is being challenged. It’s an important distinction to make. But removing stigma goes much further than that, of course. It needs to be made clear that, while we respect privacy, speaking openly about issues of mental wellness is to be encouraged.  

– Provide training and leadership to managers and supervisors with regard to enhancing and maintaining mental wellness of employees as part of the workplace culture. Train them to manage for mental wellness, to encourage open communication, to listen to employee feedback. Help them to recognize the signs of excessive stress or anxiety, and how to intervene to prevent problems from growing. Teach them how to speak with employees about mental wellness issues without fear of stigma. Make sure everyone in the workplace is prepared to speak openly about any issues that may exist. 

– Offer employee assistance programs (EAPs), and make sure employees are regularly reminded that the EAP is there for them, that it is designed to provide help for a wide range of issues and that it is entirely confidential. Your EAP can not only provide counseling and support services to employees, but it can also be the first step to accessing other services that may come into play. Also consider going one step beyond the EAP with dedicated mental health and wellness support programs that are available. 

– Provide access to benefits such as on-line mental health counseling. For many people, in many situations, the option of talking to a knowledgeable and helpful professional by video conference can be a game-changer. It’s an efficient and convenient way to access professional services for everyone, but it also has fewer barriers to access than many traditional services. Look at your overall health insurance plan to ensure there is adequate coverage for mental health services. 

– Take a careful look at your equity, diversity and inclusion policies. The goal of creating an inclusive workplace, and a workplace that fairly reflects the make-up of the community, is all about making all employees feel valued and supported. Focus on fairness in designing and implementing policies. Engage employees in the conversation and encourage feedback.  

– Promote work-life balance. Send the message that it’s important to maintain a good balance between work and life-outside-of-work. The culture of healthy balance sets clear expectations so that everyone knows what is reasonably expected of them. 

– Offer training and awareness programs on mental wellness issues. This can include workshops and seminars, lunch-and-learn sessions and on-line resources. Coping with stress. Mental wellness resources and how to access them. Dealing with mental wellness issues. And so on. Aside from the immediate benefits of providing employees with tools and strategies for coping, just talking about practical ways to deal with mental wellness issues helps to remove any stigma that may still exist. 

– Encourage feedback from employees, listen to what they’re telling you – and be prepared to act based on what you’re hearing. Open lines of communication are very important in building trust and a sense of community in the workplace – both of which are key drivers of mental wellness.  

– Encourage physical health by supporting things such as exercise programs, weight-loss counseling, nutrition programs and so on. The link between physical wellness and mental wellness is an obvious one, and the ripple effect can be as simple as helping people to feel good about themselves. 

– Provide opportunities to access financial planning education, either through the EAP or through dedicated resources. 

Of course, it’s important to keep the big picture in mind. Building the well workplace, and promoting mental wellness are not just about adding features, starting programs or checking items off a list. It’s about building out resources, consistent with the vison of a well workplace, that get absorbed into the workplace culture. 


Check out Workplace Strategies for Mental Health from Canada Life, and resources available from Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences. You can also contact me directly to ask about our Penmore Mental Health Toolbox. 


I really appreciate comments, ideas, suggestions or just observations about the blog or any other topics in benefits management. I always look forward to hearing from readers. If there’s anything you want to share, please email me at 

Copyright Notice 

© Penmore Benefits 2024. All rights reserved. All of the content herein is the sole property of the Penmore Benefits, and may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system – in whole or in part – without the written permission of the Penmore Benefits. Links to the originating article are permitted. 

The Buzz Bits 

Federal Dental Plan Raises Concerns 

Comparing mental health supports around the world 

Canadian Dental Plan update 

Connecting Canadians through mental health 

Plan sponsors may only have a few months to decide how they’ll cover obesity drugs 


Sign Up for Our Newsletter

Learn more about planning for your financial future.