Cameron Keller on Supporting Employee Mental Health: What Leaders Can Do


In today’s competitive business environment, attracting and retaining top talent has become a priority for organizations worldwide as top employers are paying closer attention to the psychological health and safety of their workplace. Creating a healthy workplace environment involves more than just paying lip service to the idea; It requires a genuine commitment to investing in the wellness of employees. With the COVID-19 pandemic and its associated stressors, it is now more important than ever to focus on mental health in the workplace.

To gain a better understanding of what constitutes a healthy workplace, we spoke with Cam Keller, an expert in organizational psychology and the founder of Kaleidoscope, a consulting firm specializing in workplace wellness during Ep. 13 of The Hive Nation Podcast. Cam is also a former Vice President, Programs and Priorities with the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Keller says the idea that we used to have in workplaces that you leave your personal stuff at home, that you can tie a neat little bow on it, you leave it on your kitchen counter, you come to work, you compartmentalize your home life, and you just perform at the highest level,  it simply doesn’t work. And all the research actually bears that out, including some research he says has been done here in Canada.

Mental Health in the Workplace

A stressful work environment can lead to increased anxiety and depression, burnout, and a decrease in job satisfaction. On the other hand, a supportive workplace can have the opposite effect, leading to increased job satisfaction, employee engagement, and productivity.

According to Keller, the psychological health and safety of the workplace must be a top priority for organizations seeking to become employers of choice. In his experience, toxic workplaces can cause a significant drain on employees’ mental and emotional energy, leading to burnout and high turnover rates.

Creating a healthy workplace involves paying attention to the whole person, not just their role as an employee. Keller stresses the importance of leaders who have emotional intelligence and the ability to tap into their employees’ needs on a personal level. Gone are the days when employees are expected to leave their personal lives at home and compartmentalize their emotions while at work.

He says creating a healthy workplace involves a shift in organizational culture, one that values open communication, authenticity, and empathy. When employees feel valued and supported, they are more engaged, productive, and loyal to the organization.

What is Currently Happening?

While mental health is a growing concern in the workplace and is getting more attention, a recent study found that almost half of Canadian workers have experienced or currently experience a mental health issue. Keller believes that engaged and committed leadership is therefore essential if real progress is to be made. He says engaged and committed leaders on mental health create an environment of trust and respect, where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings openly.

Leaders on mental health have emotional intelligence, which involves the ability to recognize and understand emotions in themselves and others. Leaders with emotional intelligence are better equipped to handle conflicts and build relationships that promote collaboration and teamwork – the foundations of creating a psychologically safe environment where everyone can feel comfortable being their whole selves and sharing it with others.

Thankfully, we have seen a positive shift in workplace cultures in recent years. More and more companies and organizations are recognizing its importance and are taking steps to address it by implementing mental health policies, providing mental health resources, and encouraging open communication.

What can Leaders do?

Keller suggests leaders can actively support their employees’ mental health and well-being by:

  1. Investing in Literacy Education:  According to Keller, the first step in creating a mentally healthy workplace is improving mental health literacy through education which help to reduce the stigma and promote help-seeking.
  2. Encouraging Early Intervention: Like physical health, the longer someone goes without treatment, the longer their recovery journey will be. Unfortunately, many Canadian workers dealing with mental health concerns do not get the help they need soon enough, resulting in extended periods of absence from work.
  3. Implementing Healthy Workplace Standards: To create a mentally healthy workplace, Keller recommends implementing the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. This is a voluntary standard that provides direction on 13 psycho-social factors for implementing a healthy workplace. Launched by the Canadian Standards Association and the French-Canadian Equib in 2011, the standard can be assessed using the tool “Guarding Minds at Work”. Guarding Minds at Work enables employers to effectively assess and address the psycho-social factors known to have an impact on organizational health, the health of individual employees, and the financial bottom line. Resources are available for to help with implementing the Standard and understanding how the use of Guarding Minds at Work can be a critical part of this process. Guarding Minds is available to all employers – large or small, in the public or private sector – for free. The only cost organizations need to consider is in terms of your time, investment, and effort to take action on the results. To help organizations manage costs, evidence-based actions for psychological health and safety includes many low-cost or no-cost strategies that help you act, even on a limited budget. 
  4. Reducing Stigma and Discrimination: Despite the progress made in the Canadian context of raising awareness around mental health, we still have a long way to go. Keller believes that workplaces need to create a culture where people feel safe and supported in discussing their mental health concerns without fear of discrimination or reprisal.
  5. Creating a Help-Seeking Culture:  Keller believes that workplaces need to promote help-seeking and provide access to resources such as employee assistance programs and mental health resources. By doing so, employees are more likely to get the help and support they need when they need it.
  6. Embedding a Culture of Psychological Health and Safety: Creating a culture of psychological health and safety is not a one-time event; It is an ongoing process that requires commitment, time, and concerted effort. It involves teaching mental toughness, coping strategies, and self-assessment tools based on brain science. The goal is to help people understand and self-assess their mental health and well-being at work. This requires a deep understanding of mental health and well-being.

Each of these, while powerful in and of their own right, support each other equally, hence ought to be viewed as the minimum that needs to be done.

Mental Health is a Continuous Journey

Keller describes mental health as existing on a continuum that goes from healthy to ill. In between, there are yellow and orange stages that describe reacting and injured mental health. By understanding the signs and symptoms of mental health issues, employees can self-assess their mental health and well-being and seek the support they need.

Keller says while we have come a long way, there is still a long way to go. Mental health is a complex issue that requires ongoing attention and care. We must continue to prioritize mental health in the workplace and create a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their concerns.

To create a culture of psychological health and safety, training and support must be ongoing. Booster sessions can help remind people of the key elements, but it is also important to incorporate training into the on-boarding process for new staff. This involves teaching the language of mental health and explaining what a psychologically healthy workplace looks like. Employees also need to understand their responsibilities in terms of the policies that link to

Promoting mental health in the workplace is an ongoing process that requires time and effort. By embedding a culture of psychological health and safety, providing ongoing training and support, and promoting the mental health continuum, organizations can create a workplace that supports the mental health and bejewelling of its employees.

Keller suggests as we continue to learn more about mental health and well-being, it is important to remain open and flexible to adapting to new knowledge and practices that would benefit employees and organizations alike.

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health provide free resources for employers and employees to create healthy workplaces:

  • Organizational strategies – Policies, programs and prevention strategies to support workplace mental health and psychological safety for everyone in an organization.
  • Approaches for people leaders – Effective approaches to developing leadership skills, team building and supporting employee success.
  • Resources for employees – Resources to support well-being for employees and their families.
  • Assessments, tools and workshops – Free materials, tools and resources to support mental health and psychological safety. Workshop materials including slide presentations, facilitator guide and participant handouts are also included.

You are not alone, and you don’t have to start from scratch.

How does your organization support mental health? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

About The Hive Professional Network

At The Hive, we are committed to providing people and organizations with the insights, coaching, and mentoring they need to become who they are meant to be so they can realize their true potential in work and in life. To do this we are building an ecosystem for coaches and those seeking coaches to find their perfect match through our proprietary matching algorithm, unique platform, and strategic partnerships.

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Podcast Summary by

Larry Cooper, the Chief Strategy Officer and A/CTO at The Hive Professional Network.

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