We know how important mental health and wellness are for a productive and healthy workforce. Federal organizations have been prioritizing mental health as part of their strategic initiatives, and wellness programs have been gaining traction in recent years. Enter the prolonged government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we have on our hands an even greater need to offer and promote psychological supports.
Yet how many public service executives are actually prioritizing their own mental health given increased workloads, stress and major shifts in how and where we work?
Recent statistics from our Employee Assistance Program show a utilization rate of 2.6% among executives for 2020-21, consistent with use in previous years, although many factors may influence why executives have not increased their use of the EAP compared with non-executives. As executives, we may have access to other supports or coping strategies, including the APEX Advisory Services, but how many of us simply put off the warning signs, telling ourselves we can handle it, or that soon, we’ll be able to take some time off/take care of a health issue/deal with a family concern?
Anxiety on the rise
In 2020-21, Health Canada’s EAP responded to 60% more crisis calls than in previous years. As can be expected, EAP mental health professionals received an increasing number of calls from employees in acute distress due to anxiety, family and couple’s issues as well as concerns related to the pandemic. In fact, anxiety-related calls increased to 16.7%, compared to 10.4% in 2019-20 and 8% in 2018-19.
As a public service leader – what can you do?
- Check in with yourself before the situation becomes urgent, as well as accept and respect your limits.
- Encourage all employees, management and other executives to be mindful of how the pandemic has affected their wellness, and to contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if they need support. Sessions with mental health professionals can be in-person (depending on local jurisdiction restrictions), by phone, using e-counselling or video counselling.
- Reach out to Health Canada’s EAS team (or other resources) for training to help you or employees adapt to workplace changes and stressors stemming from COVID-19.
- Contact the EAP in order to provide an information session to your employees.
Health Canada’s Employee Assistance Services (EAS) can provide mental health expertise and resources to all government organizations. This includes:
- Onsite support to teams who are back in the workplace and may be under increased stress due to the pandemic
- Grief and loss psychological support (death, job loss)
- Workplace wellness assessments, coaching, or disability management/return to work services
- Informal conflict management (mediation, conflict coaching, training)
- Ombuds-like services
- Onsite support to federal first responders experiencing burnout or other mental health concerns due to the pandemic and workload
Tailored workshops geared to public service executives, are also available, including:
- Leading/Managing Virtual Teams in Times of Crisis/Pandemic
- “Executalk” – Coaching circles for Executives. Coaching to help Executives lead and build culture during the pandemic.
- Leading Throughout a Crisis: A Mental Health and Resiliency Workshop
- Managing a Virtual Team Through Change
- Team Challenges in Times of Change/Pandemic
- Maintaining an Inclusive and Respectful Workplace Throughout a Crisis (Civility and Respect)
- Team Building during COVID – Establishing and Building New and Established Team Culture
For more information about how Health Canada’s EAS can support you and your organization: healthcanada.gc.ca/EAS . For departments and agencies with separate EAP services, be sure to explore what they can offer you as well: https://www.canada.ca/en/government/publicservice/wellness-inclusion-diversity-public-service/employee-assistance-program.html
 Only includes data for organizations (n=88) who use Health Canada’s Employee Assistance Services for their EAP.