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Caring Leaders: You are Not a Therapist

The three building blocks to supporting mental health in the workplace

For many people the prospect of returning to the office brings another stress to an already stressful time as we try to juggle the complexities of kids going back to school, organized sports, social gatherings, and whether our pants will still fit.

With the personal, social, and financial challenges many of us have encountered over the last 6 months, it's more important than ever to talk openly and create a culture of vulnerability in our workplaces.

Here are three critical building blocks to create that safe space in your workplace:

  1. Build Awareness Physical health and mental health both require effort and the first step is awareness. We have an opportunity as a collective to move the needle on the state of mental health in the workplace. It’s not simply about being prepared for when things are hard, it’s about being proactive so mental health is a consistent topic. Leaders should be encouraged to be open about their own mental health - as well as share resources, articles, and tools on a regular basis with their staff. For example, one great tool is the Canadian Mental Health Association's Mental Health Meter: Not only does this approach keep mental health front of mind for everyone, it also helps create a safe space that builds trust. Your employees are not going to be open and vulnerable about their challenges if they don’t feel completely safe to do so. This is only achieved by building an authentic culture that is open, aware, and transparent. The more you can identify opportunities to build that culture, the more your team will trust that they are truly supported.

  2. Develop Communication Skills Leaders also need to be supported through coaching and development to refine their communication skills when it comes to having difficult conversations. It is critical to create a safe space for employees to adapt to this change and express the anxiety or challenges that will come from yet another shift in their lives. However, leaders also need to understand their place in supporting mental health efforts in their organization - and the difference between creating a safe space and taking on the role of a therapist. A leadership coaching program can help you acquire the tools to listen with empathy and ask the right questions to support your team members. Rather than trying to solve the problem for them, this approach encourages employees to reflect on their own challenges and draw on their own experience and skill set to create an action plan for change. Your role as a leader is not to be their therapist - it is to build rapport and create an environment where employees trust that they can be vulnerable with you.

  3. Use External Resources: EAP A solid mental health plan for your workplace needs to be supported by external resources, often included in an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). An EAP typically offers services that support employee well being in the areas of physical and mental health, stress and anxiety management, nutrition, financial education, and life transitions such as parenting and elder care. In terms of mental health, one of the crucial things an EAP offers is confidential, short term, counselling services for employees. Again, you are not a therapist. But through proper coaching conversations, your team members may identify the need for one.

If you are interested in learning more about creating a wellness program for your employees or developing coaching skills as a leader within your organization - please contact us at


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