Language selection

Search

The Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being

Publication information

This publication is available online at www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/113.nsf/eng/h_07666.html.

To obtain a copy of this publication, or to receive it in an alternate format (Braille, large print, etc.), please fill out
the Publication Request Form at www.ic.gc.ca/Publication-Request or contact:

Web Services Centre
Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada
C.D. Howe Building
235 Queen Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0H5
Canada

Telephone (toll-free in Canada): 1-800-328-6189
Telephone (international): 613-954-5031
TTY (for hearing impaired): 1-866-694-8389
Business hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. (Eastern Time)
Email: ISED@canada.ca

Permission to Reproduce

Except as otherwise specifically noted, the information in this publication may be reproduced, in part or in whole and by any means, without charge or further permission from the Department of Industry, provided that due diligence is exercised in ensuring the accuracy of the information reproduced; that the Department of Industry is identified as the source institution; and that the reproduction is not represented as an official version of the information reproduced or as having been made in affiliation with, or with the endorsement of, the Department of Industry.

For permission to reproduce the information in this publication for commercial purposes, please fill out the Application for Crown Copyright Clearance at www.ic.gc.ca/copyright-request or contact the Web Services Centre mentioned above.

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, as represented by the Minister of Industry, (2018).

Cat. No. Iu37-8/5-2019E-PDF

ISBN 978-0-660-31900-1

Aussi offert en français sous le titre Cinquième rapport d'étape sur les évolutions en matière de législation sur la protection des données au Canada.

PDF version

WE ARE:

A passionate team of informal conflict management and harassment prevention professionals who provide an accessible, safe space for ISED employees to address difficulties in the workplace. As part of our team, we also have dedicated employees supporting the programming of the Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

OUR PRINCIPLES:

  • Confidentiality
  • Independence
  • Impartiality
  • Informality

OUR MISSION:

We strive to create a healthy, positive and productive work environment for all ISED employees, at all levels within the organization and from every part of Canada, and to share our best practices in mental health and employee well-being throughout the federal public service.

OUR VISION:

A federal public service that embraces authentic, open and stigma-free dialogue on mental health issues based on compassion.

Table of contents

  1. LISTENING, LEARNING, HELPING: A Message from the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being
  2. HEALTHY WORKPLACES, HEALTHY LIVES: Why ISED has an Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being
    1. Mental Health and the Federal Public Service
    2. Mental Health Initiatives at ISED
    3. Mental Health Indicators at ISED
    4. ISED's Corporate Mental Health Program
  3. HOW WE ARE HELPING: Our Purpose and Principles, Programs and Services, Partners and People
    1. Our Purpose and Principles
    2. Our Programs and Services: An Integrated Model for ISED
      1. Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being
      2. Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace
      3. Conflict Prevention and Early Resolution
    3. Our Partners
      1. The TBS Centre of Expertise for Mental Health in the Workplace
      2. The TBS Centre for Wellness, Diversity and Inclusion
      3. Conference Board of Canada's Council on Workplace Health and Wellness
    4. Our People
  4. MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER: Our First-Year Findings and Recommendations
    1. ISED and the National Standard for Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace
    2. Finding #1 and Recommendations: Shortcomings Regarding Psychological and Social Support for Employees
    3. Finding #2 and Recommendations: Issues Related to Successfully Managing Workload to Promote Work-Life Balance
    4. Finding #3 and Recommendations: Shortcomings Regarding Interpersonal Relationships and Lack of Civility and Respect in the Workplace
  5. THERE IS HOPE; THERE IS HELP: My Story of Struggle and Recovery by Josh Alcorn
  6. MENTAL HEALTH TOOLS & RESOURCES: Learn More and/or Start a Dialogue with Colleagues
  7. WE'RE HERE TO HELP: Contact Us
  8. ANNEX A — Standards of practice of the ISED Ombudsman, Mental Health and Employee Well-Being, ISED Canada

LISTENING, LEARNING, HELPING:

A Message from the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being

I am very proud to present the first Annual Report of the Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED).

Since I first started in this position in October 2018, I have had the opportunity to meet many incredibly devoted, professional and committed employees, some of whom, unfortunately, have been affected by very difficult situations in the workplace.

During my first six months, I was able to use my passion for mental health, attentive listening and sensitivity towards people experiencing difficulties to help our employees, many of whom were incredibly vulnerable. I was able to fulfil my mandate by providing a safe and neutral space for employees who were susceptible to inappropriate behaviour and unhealthy situations. It is my job to carefully note counterproductive behaviours and suggest concrete measures to eliminate them. I am relentlessly committed to helping all employees by providing them with moral support, as well as with confidential and impartial advice and guidance.

Many employees have expressed their gratitude for the creation of a safe space to deal confidentially with difficult situations. They thanked the Office of the Ombudsman (the Office), and the Department, for having implemented this new informal mechanism, which greatly reduces their fear of reprisal.

In short, I am proud of what has been achieved during my first six months in this position. I have met with more than 2,000 people in the National Capital Region and approximately 500 employees in the regions, and provided 40 individual and confidential consultations for employees experiencing difficulties in the workplace. In a very short period of time, the Department's model for the Office of the Ombudsman has proven its worth.

I am happy to say that the majority of the employees experiencing difficulties have decided to remain here at ISED. It is clear that happy employees will be more committed, dedicated and effective. Together, it is our obligation to ensure that we all evolve in a psychologically healthy, inclusive and collaborative environment.

I would like to sincerely thank the Deputy Minister, who firmly believes in the independence and confidentiality of the role of the Ombudsman, and who gave me the necessary freedom to fulfil my mandate. I would also like to thank the Associate Deputy Ministers, Assistant Deputy Ministers, Regional Directors, the various internal committees, the group of departmental ambassadors and union leaders, for their very useful feedback and their unwavering support for my position.

Mario Baril

Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being

HEALTHY WORKPLACES, HEALTHY LIVES:

Why ISED has an Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being

Mental Health and the Federal Public Service

As employees,Footnote * we spend almost one third of our working lives in the workplace, so it is important to our physical and emotional well-being that our work environments and our work experiences be positive ones. That's why, today, important conversations about employee mental health and well-being are taking place across Canada, including in the federal public service—and here at ISED.

These conversations are leading to concrete actions, beginning with the development of the Federal Public Service Mental Health Strategy. This important strategy focuses on three goals:

Changing culture to be respectful to the mental health of all colleagues

"The Ombudsman plays a distinctly different role than the CPER group or labour relations, and is an invaluable resource for those who do not want to take formal action. The support and guidance I received from the Ombudsman was invaluable and is the key reason I did not need to go on sick leave. Through his insight and support, as well as that of my ADM, I was able to see a path forward. Bravo, and thank you."

  • Anonymous Employee

You gave me strength, confidence and put wind in my sails. I no longer feel as unprepared as I have in the past few weeks. I am now preparing for my discussion with my manager with confidence and a sense of direction.

  • Anonymous Employee

Building capacity with tools and resources for employees at all levels

Measuring and reporting on actions.

In August 2018, the Deputy Minister Task Team on Harassment released its report, Safe Workspaces: Starting a Dialogue and Taking Action on Harassment in the Public Service. Following extensive reviews of federal policies, processes and tools, and after listening to the experiences and ideas of HR professionals and public servants at all levels, including young employees and persons living with a physical, neurological or psychological challenge, the Task Team made recommendations covering five key themes:

Support for employees: Provide advice, tools and resources to help all employees prevent and resolve conflicts, to feel safe to bring forward issues and complaints, and to navigate what can be a complex process

Leadership: Leaders at all levels [are] to demonstrate commitment to a workplace that is free from harassment, reinforce a respectful organizational culture, and take action when inappropriate behaviour occurs

Improving response capacity: Make it easier to identify and engage expertise to support public servants

Skills development and best practices: Provide employees and managers with training and support to better understand what the spectrum of harassment looks like and the roles public servants play in creating civil and respectful workplaces

Making use of data: Improve our line of sight into what is happening in our organizations to inform action

One of the Task Team's specific recommendations was that "Departments … put in place an Ombuds-type function to provide all employees with a trusted, safe space to discuss harassment without fear of reprisal and to help navigate existing systems."

What is the mandate of the Ombudsman at ISED?

The Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being at ISED is a designated independent official whose mandate is to provide a safe space for all ISED employees to discuss workplace issues in a confidential manner, and to explore options to resolve them through an informal mechanism, without any fear of reprisal.

Why should I contact the ISED Ombudsman and what should be expected?

You may choose to consult the Ombudsman at any time in order to bring your concerns forward safely and effectively before considering formal complaints mechanisms. The Ombudsman offers this safe space to explore options in addressing issues in the workplace, including harassment. Even if you have consulted the ISED Intranet in order to learn about the range of options (formal and informal) available to address your issues, you may still want to consult the Ombudsman to help you navigate these options. Employees are encouraged to consult early on when an issue arises in order to increase the possibility of an outcome that will respond to their needs.

How reliable confidential is consultation with the Ombudsman?

The Ombudsman holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence and takes all possible steps to safeguard confidentiality, including the following: the Ombudsman does not reveal, and must not be required to reveal, the identity of any individual contacting the Ombudsman's Office; nor does the Ombudsman reveal information provided in confidence that could lead to the identification of any individual contacting the Office, without that individual's express permission. The Ombudsman takes specific action related to an individual's issue only with the individual's express permission and only to the extent permitted, and, in some situations, at the sole discretion of the Ombudsman. The ISED Ombudsman adheres to professional standards strictly governing their confidentiality, independence and impartiality. The International Ombudsman Institute supports the ombudsman function within institutions. The umbrella professional association for organizational ombudsmen is the International Ombudsman Association, which provides training and establishes standards of practice. The Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being at ISED adheres to these professional standards.

Mental Health Initiatives at ISED

ISED responded to the Task Team's recommendation by appointing its first Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being in October 2018. This action builds on strong practices and initiatives already in place at ISED for creating a healthy workplace and supporting our workforce and their mental health. One such initiative is Beyond2020, the bridge from Blueprint 2020 to Public Service Renewal. The former Clerk of the Privy Council referred to Beyond2020 as the "pivot" point for taking stock of progress from Blueprint 2020, and building on that foundation to focus on achieving deeper change. The priorities are set: we will be working towards creating an Agile, Inclusive and Equipped workforce. The focus will be on changing mindsets and behaviours.

An agile workforce is one that is empowered, can mobilize people and resources to achieve key priorities, embrace uncertainty, and learn through experimentation. An inclusive workforce is one in which employees are safe to express themselves, expand partnerships and collaboration, and offer an environment of co-creation, thus bringing different perspectives to the table. Finally, an equipped workforce is one that adapts work environments to optimize performance, makes learning a fundamental component, and explores technologies and tools to help employees be more effective in their roles.

Long description below.
Text version

Figure 1: Mindsets and Behaviours

The Beyond2020 initiative is represented by three overlapping circles. In the middle is written: Mindsets and Behaviours

Each circle features one of Beyond2020's areas of focus for public service renewal with a short description: Agile, Inclusive and Equipped.

Top circle header: Agile

Definition: Be agile in responding to the many intersecting issues (like harassment or discrimination) that can impact employee mental health. We know mental health issues do not arise in a vacuum and so we must continue listening and adapt our response.

Left-hand circle header: Inclusive

Definition: Be more inclusive to ensure employees struggling with a mental health issue feel safe to share how they're feeling and what they need—without fear of stigmatization.

Right-hand circle header: Equipped

Definition: Equip managers and employees with the mentoring, knowledge and critical resources to talk about mental health and give employees the support they need.

As the Government of Canada moves to the next stage of Public Service Renewal, ISED is striving to evolve from being a good to being a great, high-performing organization. Building on recent initiatives such as Innovation 2020 and Organizing for Success, ISED is continuing to take a leadership role in developing a multi-year renewal plan which is organized by areas of focus and aligned with the Beyond2020 initiative. This plan will have an important impact on all ISED employees; We encourage you to keep abreast of developments.

Recognizing that nurturing a culture of innovation is the key to continuously improving the public service and serving Canadians, ISED also created the Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. The Centre delivers, among other things, high-quality workshops to help ensure that the vision of an "Agile, Inclusive and Equipped" workforce becomes a reality across the federal public service. The Centre is working with key partners throughout the federal government, including central agencies, to make sure that every effort to support mental health in the workplace is coordinated, collaborative, and complementary.

The Centre recognizes and thanks all past and current departments and organizations, which helped support the 2018–2019 fiscal year, along with new partners supporting us in 2019–2020, through their financial and in-kind support:

  • Public Services and Procurement Canada
  • Employment and Social Development Canada
  • Transport Canada
  • Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat
  • Office of the Ombudsman, Small Departments and Organizations
  • Indigenous Services Canada
  • Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
  • Statistics Canada
  • Veterans Affairs Canada
  • Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
  • Financial Consumer Agency of Canada

Mental Health Indicators at ISED

Research shows that some 70% of Canadian employees are concerned about the psychological health and safety of their workplace, while 14% don't actually believe that their workplace is either healthy or safe. Furthermore, one in five of us—or seven million people—will experience a mental health problem or illness each year.Footnote 1 Several recent studies have also shown that psychological health challenges now account for more than half (52%) of all approved disability claims in the federal public service; overall in Canada, 30% of disability claims have been attributed to mental illness, with depression the leading cause.Footnote 2

Two of the root causes that contribute to the worsening of mental health in the workplace are stress and harassment, both of which have been identified as important factors affecting job satisfaction and workplace well-being among ISED employees.

According to the 2018 Public Service Employee Survey (PSES), 18% of ISED respondents indicated that their level of work-related stress was high (compared with 15% of their public service colleagues). The top four sources of their stress, as outlined in Table 1, are: not enough employees to do the work (29%), heavy workload (27%), unreasonable deadlines (22%) and changing priorities (20%).

Table 1: 2018 PSES RESULTS | WORK-RELATED STRESS
SOURCE ISED PUBLIC SERVICE
2017 2018
Not enough employees to do the work 28% 29% 32%
Heavy workload 25% 27% 27%
Unreasonable deadlines 21% 22% 21%
Changing priorities 20% 20% 22%

We now know that there is a direct link between a high level of stress and workplace incivility, which, if allowed to go unchecked, not only allows harassing behaviours to exist, but may eventually lead to workplace violence. To this end, it is important to focus on the causes of stress in the workplace and, as teams and as individuals, consider ways to reduce them, as indicated in the graphic below.

Long description below.
Text version

Figure 2:

Graphic shows four circles. In each circle a word is written. Left to right, the words are:

  1. Stress
  2. Incivility
  3. Harassment
  4. Violence

Above the circles is an arrow pointing from right to left. In the arrow are the words:

Managerial Responsibility – Be aware, lead by example, and take action to maintain civility in the workplace, including addressing employee behaviour.

Below the circles is an arrow point from left to right. In the arrow are the words:

Employee Responsibility – Speak up when something bothers you, don't participate in negative interactions, and maintain civil workplace relations.

The 2018 PSES also found that 15% of public servants who responded indicated that they had been the victim of harassment on the job in the past 12 months. That figure for ISED employees decreased from 16% to 12% in 2018. This is great progress, but there is still work to do. Among ISED respondents, 28% of those who have experienced harassment did not take action.

The reasons reported for not taking action through official recourse mechanisms include fear of reprisal, concern about the confidentiality and length of the process, and the belief that the incident was not serious enough or the recourse would not make a difference. The following are examples of reprisals:

  • Hostile actions such as intimidation through verbal or visible threats (abuse)
  • Exclusion from decisions and work activities
  • Cold shoulder treatment from superiors or colleagues
  • Poor performance rating and/or feedback
  • Work reassignment
  • No promotions or career progression
  • Bad references for a future job

ISED's Corporate Mental Health Program

The Ombudsman recognizes the achievements already made at ISED with regard to addressing mental health in the workplace. A key element of ISED's Corporate Mental Health Program (CMHP) is the Mental Health Strategy delivered by the Human Resources Branch. The CMHP commits to creating and promoting a culture that enshrines psychological health, safety and well-being in all aspects of the workplace through education, collaboration, inclusion and respect.

The CMHP provides strategic input and advice, programming, training, resources and best practices to ISED and other federal departments and agencies.

In 2018–2019, the CMHP had many noteworthy accomplishments:

  • Creating and implementing the Mental Health Strategy and an E-learning tool that provide clear goals and direction for all interested parties including employees, supervisors, managers, executives, senior leaders and key stakeholders.
  • Fully engaging and supporting the Departmental Mental Health Co-Champions, Paul Thompson and Philippe Thompson, and providing them with various internal and external speaking opportunities.
  • Offering mental health programming, training and workshops that aligned with the 13 psychosocial factors from the National Standard for Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (Mental Health Commission of Canada) to increase awareness and understanding of each factor (for more detailed information on the National Standard, please see page 40).
  • Contributing to the opening of the Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.
  • Establishing a Departmental Mental Health Network and a Respectful, Healthy and Inclusive Workplace Committee, which brings together Conflict Management Practitioners, Human Resources Branch stakeholders and Union Representatives to share information on best practices.
  • Getting mental health on the agendas of the Unions, the Occupational Health and Safety Policy Committee, Workplace OHS Committee and the HR Sub-Committee.
  • Creating a Mental Health Wiki, which acts as a central repository for mental health events, workshops, resources, training options, and other valuable information.
  • Launching and promoting the "Not Myself Today Campaign" and creating a monthly implementation guide that was shared inter-departmentally.

Moving forward, the CMHP aims to release a revised Mental Health Strategy that aligns with Public Service Renewal and Beyond2020 initiatives, while maintaining the objectives outlined in the National Standard. The CMHP will continue to focus on equipping ISED employees and managers with the tools and resources they need to ensure a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.

HOW WE ARE HELPING: Our Purpose and Principles, Programs and Services, Partners and People

Our Purpose and Principles

The Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being:

  • Offers a safe and impartial environment for employees to have informal and confidential conversations on workplace issues
  • Creates a venue to explore options for resolving workplace issues, including harassment
  • Refers employees to other services, including for restoring workplaces after harassment has occurred
  • Provides resources, tools and support

The Office provides services to individual or groups of ISED employees from anywhere in Canada to support them in exploring and identifying possible options for resolving conflicts, complex situations, or systemic issues. The Ombudsman provides these services based on the four operating principles set out by the International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice, as follows:

Independence: The Ombudsman is a designated "neutral party" reporting to the Deputy Minister and is independent from the organizational reporting structure.

Impartiality: The Ombudsman strives for impartiality, fairness and objectivity in the treatment of people and the consideration of issues. The Ombudsman advocates for fair and equitable processes.

Informality: The Ombudsman does not make binding decisions or formally adjudicate issues for the organization. The Ombudsman does not replace any formal channels. The use of the Ombudsman's Office is voluntary and is not a required step in any process. The Ombudsman helps people develop new ways to solve problems themselves.

Confidentiality: The Ombudsman holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence and takes all reasonable steps to safeguard confidentiality. The Ombudsman takes specific action related to an individual's issue only with the individual's express permission and only to the extent permitted.

Please consult Annex A for more information on the ISED Ombudsman Standards of Practice.

Our Programs and Services: An Integrated Model for ISED

There are three components to ISED's integrated model for supporting the mental health and well-being of our employees: the Office of the Ombudsman, the Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, and the Conflict Prevention and Early Resolution Team (CPER).

The Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being

Following the appointment of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being, a series of consultations were undertaken and presentations made about the new Ombudsman service. Over the course of the first six months in this position, these consultations with employees, managers, and unions allowed the Ombudsman to become familiar with the specific issues within the Department, in Ottawa as well as in the regions.

In a short amount of time, we had the opportunity to present the services of the Office of the Ombudsman to the Departmental Management Committee, sector management tables, the National Labour-Management Consultation Committee, and the Departmental Internal Audit Committee. This allowed us to get excellent feedback, as well as better establish the foundations of the Office. As we are aware of the differing regional realities, we began, in January 2019, meeting with employees in the Pacific, Ontario and Quebec regions to better understand the regional challenges in order to better target our interventions. As we want to ensure our services are available all across the country, we will visit all other regions over the course of the 2019–2020 fiscal year.

Since October 2018, the Office of the Ombudsman has held 40 confidential meetings on a range of issues, which are shown in the following chart:

Confidential Meetings—Issues Raised

Long description below.
Text version

Figure 3: Issues Raised

Graphic shows nine boxes of varying sizes that are associated with topics of issues raised. From largest to smallest, issues raised include:

  1. Alleged Harassment / Bullying
  2. Interpersonal / Work issues
  3. Duty to accommodate
  4. Performance Management
  5. Mental Health Issues
  6. Organizational Structure Issues

The three final boxes are the same size:

  1. Flexible working arrangements
  2. Staffing issues
  3. Emotional Intelligence Competencies

The following chart shows the types of services and/or support that clients sought from the Office of the Ombudsman:

Confidential Meetings—Services/Support Sought

Long description below.
Text version

Figure 4: Consultations — Clients' Expectations

Bar chart, entitled Consultations — Clients' Expectations, illustrating the types of services and/or support that clients sought from the Office of the Ombudsman.

Services and/or support Number of clients
Orientation / Advice 15
Coaching 1
Informal Conversation 0
Upward Feedback 2
Disclose issues to Ombudsman 19
Help to resolve their issues 3

We note that many clients were eager to make their work situations known, in the hope that certain behaviours would cease or in order to reveal an unsustainable situation. However, most people who spoke to us in a confidential space did not want to be the source of the change (the instigator). Rather, they wanted to be part of a group of people who could improve their work environment. This illustrates employees' lack of comfort in raising, by themselves, important organizational health issues as though they do not have permission to do so, or are unsure about the possible consequences if they should be identified.

The Office of the Ombudsman undertook a range of actions to address the issues raised by ISED employees. A summary of those actions appears below.

Long description below.
Text version

Figure 5: Actions Taken

Bar chart entitled Actions Taken Summary — October to March 2019 indicates the range of actions the Ombudsman's Office took to address the issues raised by ISED employees.

Action Number of instances
Orientation — options 16
Coaching 6
Exit Interviews 1
Informal Conversation 2
Informed DM's office 3
Informed senior management 4
Liaison with external services 1
Liaison with internal services 1
Listen to the person 5
Refered to external services 2
Refered to internal services 4
Refered to union representatives 2

In most cases, employees had no other expectations beyond just wanting the Ombudsman to be aware of their situations and influence change in the Department for the benefits of colleagues or new employees.

The following chart reflects this finding—prior to their consultation with the Ombudsman, some 41% of clients simply wanted to disclose a situation in their workplace. However, 29% of them were going on sick leave while 24% were seriously looking to find another job or were waiting to start working elsewhere (either internal or external to ISED).

Long description below.
Text version

Figure 6: Clients' intentions prior to consultation with the Ombudsman

Pie chart indicating clients intentions prior to consultation with the Ombudsman.

Intention Percent
Disclose issues 41%
Sick leave 29%
Find another job 24%
Formal harassment complaint 6%
Resign 0%
Formal Complaint to the Human Rights Commission 0%
Grievance 0%
Integrity Commissioner 0%
Internal Disclosure 0%

Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace

ISED took a government-wide leadership role in establishing the Centre for the benefit of all federal public servants. The Centre, which opened in May 2018, was created to share best practices, tools and resources for public service employees and managers to build productive and healthy workplaces while promoting positive cultural change across the public service. Since its opening, the Centre has hosted over 8,000 public servants for both online and in-person events, which have provided government employees with practical tools and advice from expert speakers in the areas of mental health, well-being, diversity and inclusion.

Events have included sessions on "How to Cope with Post-Traumatic Stress Following a Catastrophic Event," to support our employees following the OC-Transpo accident on January 11, 2019, and "How to Deliver High-Impact Feedback to Employees," which applied the principles of neuroleadership to explain how to learn the best way of delivering constructive feedback that drives motivation and commitment. Sessions on building resiliency at work, engagement and bullying also provided useful information applicable to our workplaces.

The 2018–2019 fiscal year ended with a "Program Design Day" which sought input, advice and suggestions on content to be developed and delivered by the Centre in 2019–2020.

Conflict Prevention and Early Resolution (CPER)

The Conflict Prevention and Early Resolution (CPER) Team's role is to support the capacity of all ISED employees, in all roles and at all levels, to address conflict promptly and constructively, in a safe and accessible environment, with a spirit of respect, and using a collaborative, interest-based approach.

Reporting to the Ombudsman, ISED's conflict management practitioners are impartial third parties who ensure confidential processes for individuals and groups, to prevent and address conflict. They provide a variety of services, including consultations, one-on-one coaching, facilitated discussions, mediation, workplace assessments, and group interventions. CPER also works to restore the workplace to health in the aftermath of conflict and formal complaint processes.

In 2018–2019, CPER conducted 381 consultations and 273 coaching sessions and processed 212 cases; this represents a 36% increase compared with the 2017–2018 fiscal year.

Providing individualized coaching enables employees to address and resolve their own conflicts and is thus an effective and efficient way to ensure dispute resolution. This also builds the Department's internal capacity to resolve conflict. Moreover, the earlier a conflict is dealt with, the greater the likelihood that it will be successfully resolved and not escalate further.

CPER conducted 15 mediations that resulted in the prevention or the withdrawal of formal harassment complaints or grievances, with a success rate of 95%. Three of the 15 mediations involved formal harassment complaints, all of which were withdrawn.

During a visit to the CPER office, an experienced practitioner listens to the client without judgment and assists him or her in exploring and articulating his or her needs. Based on the information shared and the client's objectives, the practitioner will explore the range of options available to address the issue. Where appropriate, the practitioner may also refer clients to other services, including to the Ombudsman.

Issues brought to CPER range from damaged interpersonal/work relationships (between peers, employees and management, and within and between groups), to alleged harassment/bullying, lack of civility and respect, management practices, performance management discussions, negotiations on accommodations, human resources and organizational issues.

During the period under review, CPER conducted 14 group interventions and one group restoration process following a formal procedure. In some of these cases, managers took the initiative to proactively address issues identified in the PSES, including harassment and discrimination, by requesting a CPER-group facilitation to identify as a team, ways that will foster a respectful, healthy and inclusive workplace.

CPER also provides a range of training sessions to develop employees' skills to manage conflict proactively. Two new training modules, "Pinch Crunch" and "Team Value Charters," were piloted, each with the aim of preventing workplace conflict. CPER conducted 31 training sessions with 849 participants.

CPER has developed a leading change and transition website, which features resources and tools, to support managers in dealing with the emotions involved in change management, as well as with their ability to implement the extensive and simultaneous changes that have affected their working environments, processes, structures and employees.

A key activity for CPER in 2018–2019 was revamping the Respectful, Healthy and Inclusive Workplace Initiative (RHIW), including remodeling the RHIW website on GCPedia. This website allowed for the further development of RHIW resources and the tool kit created by CPER in 2016, which was subsequently adopted by the entire federal public service. Today, the RHIW Initiative is more user-friendly and better designed to support managers and employees alike in their efforts to prevent conflict, harassment and discrimination.

Critical to employee well-being is their access to psychosocial support services. As such, CPER coordinates the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and ensures that this service is continually evolving to be responsive to the needs of ISED employees. During the year under review, CPER renegotiated key service improvements to EAP such as the availability of telephone counselling, which did not exist before.

During 2018–2019, CPER practitioners obtained their certification in administering the Emotional Quotient Intelligence (EQ-i) test and EQ-i leadership coaching. They conducted a pilot project that assessed 24 managers and provided Emotional Intelligence (EI) coaching based on the managers' results. Managers who took the EQ-i 2.0 tests and received coaching stated that they gained greater awareness of their strengths and areas for improvement with regard to leadership competencies and emotional intelligence generally. Once completed, CPER intends to roll the project out to larger groups of managers within the Department.

In October 2018, the CPER office took the lead in organizing and implementing the Conflict Resolution Day with the Federal Informal Conflict Management System (ICMS) Network on the theme of "Improving Your Workplace, One Conversation at a Time." Dispute resolution practitioners improvised scenarios based on participants' suggestions, and a panel of experts shared effective strategies for having difficult conversations successfully. More than 300 federal public service employees from 57 departments across Canada participated in these improvised difficult conversation sessions. Strengthening employees' communications skills to have productive conversations is foundational to achieving organizational results.

During the year in review, CPER remained sensitive to the needs of ISED regional employees and works to ensure that they receive the same level of support as employees in the National Capital Region. Practitioners provided a number of services in the regions and consulted with clients to better tailor programs to their working realities. The services provided included consultations, coaching, mediations, training, and orientations to CPER services. CPER will continue to develop responsive interventions and training for the various sectors located in the regions, in keeping with the Ombudsman's consultations, analyses and findings. The Ombudsman's Office will also work to revise its training modules in 2019–2020 in order to tailor the courses to the most urgent needs of the Department, as indicated by the PSES results and issues raised during individual confidential consultations.

2018–2019: The Year in Numbers

  • # of consultations with the Ombudsman: 40
  • # of public servants who participated in the Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace events: 8,000+
  • # of employees addressed by the Ombudsman (town halls, management tables, team meetings): 2,500
  • Regional visits made by the Ombudsman and employees addressed/met:
  • QUEBEC Region (January/February 2019): 294
  • ONTARIO Region (February/March 2019): 111
  • PACIFIC Region (March 2019): 86

Our Partners

In order to better support ISED employees, the Ombudsman has pursued discussions with a range of organizations since the creation of the Office in October 2018. They are:

  • The TBS Centre of Expertise for Mental Health in the Workplace
  • The TBS/OCHRO Centre for Wellness, Inclusion and Diversity
  • The Conference Board of Canada's Council on Workplace Health and Wellness

These discussions will help provide broader access to resources for ISED employees, as well as to the latest research and trends in the fields of mental health in the workplace and employee well-being.

The TBS Centre of Expertise for Mental Health in the Workplace

The TBS Centre of Expertise for Mental Health in the Workplace was created to help federal organizations develop and implement measures to support the Federal Public Service Mental Health Strategy and to provide guidance to federal organizations on how to align with the National Standard for Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.

The Centre is a collaborative initiative between departmental officials and collective bargaining agents to provide employees, managers and organizations with resources, tools and access to learning and training opportunities that improve the mental health of federal organizations.

The Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace at ISED is working in very close collaboration with the TBS Centre of Expertise. This ensures that we have a complementary approach in delivering on the Federal Public Service Mental Health Strategy. We are also exploring options for innovative solutions in supporting the Strategy.

The TBS/OCHRO Centre for Wellness, Inclusion and Diversity

The Centre for Wellness, Inclusion and Diversity was created by the Office of the Chief Human Resources Officer (OCHRO) at TBS to help address issues of discrimination, harassment and bias encountered by employees from equity-seeking groups such as employees with disabilities, Aboriginal employees, ethnic minorities and members of the LGBTQ2+ community. Its aim is to improve diversity, inclusion and employment equity in the public service and it is a key partner with ISED's Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace in determining ways to reduce and eliminate stigma in the workplace that is associated with mental health issues.

Conference Board of Canada's Council on Workplace Health and Wellness

The Conference Board's Council on Workplace Health and Wellness brings health, safety, and well-being professionals together to discuss, in a closed-door, confidential environment, the impact of workplace health at the organizational level. Members look at how organizations work to improve productivity, reduce health care costs, and improve employee engagement; the lessons learned should position ISED for future success as an employer of choice because of how we, as an organization, address and treat workplace mental health and employee well-being.

Our People

The Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being at ISED is a small but passionate team of experts from the fields of informal conflict management and harassment prevention.

Mario Baril joined ISED in October 2018 in the newly created position of Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being. He has held several executive positions over the past 12 years in the areas of strategic and business communications at Public Service and Procurement Canada, as Chief of Staff to a Deputy Minister at the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS), and as Executive Director for the Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service of Canada (APEX).

Through a number of initiatives to promote best management practices in the workplace, particularly in the area of people management, Mario demonstrates a profound interest in contributing to (or helping create) a committed, diversified, agile and productive public service. He brings extensive experience in developing strategic partnerships and initiatives to foster a healthy workplace. Mario holds a Bachelor's Degree in Economics and Public Administration from the University of Ottawa, a college diploma in journalism, and is currently completing a Master's Degree in Public Administration at L'École nationale d'administration publique (ENAP).

In his spare time, Mario practises many outdoor sports including skiing, swimming, canoeing, cycling, especially in the Mont-Tremblant area. His passion for travel has led him, his wife Danielle, and their two sons, Alexandre and Samuel, to visit several countries, allowing him to meet amazing people and experience diverse cultures from around the world.

ISED's Associate Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being is Eve Nadeau, who has held the position since November 2018. Eve joined the Department after occupying the positions of Manager of the Values and Ethics and Harassment Prevention Programs at the Treasury Board Secretariat, as well as at Justice Canada. For eight years prior to this, in addition to being the Manager, Eve was also a Senior Conflict Management Advisor at Public Services and Procurement Canada. In her role as a mediator, she developed a departmental harassment prevention initiative, she designed various organization-specific trainings, created group intervention processes and harassment and sexual harassment prevention tools. In her role today, Eve continues to focus on raising awareness about mental health, harassment prevention, conflict resolution and workplace well-being.

Eve joined the federal public service in 2006 and worked in the field of labour relations as a Senior Advisor at Public Services and Procurement Canada, Correctional Services Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency. Prior to this, she worked for ten years as a social worker and as a probation officer with the Government of Quebec. Eve has a Bachelor's Degree in Criminology from the University of Ottawa, a Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from the University of Quebec at Hull, and a Master's Degree in Public Administration from L'École nationale d'administration publique (ENAP).

One of Eve's passions is the neuropsychology of human relations and culture-specific social behaviours.

Nathalie Auger has been the Director of ISED's Conflict Prevention and Early Resolution (CPER) Directorate since 2016. She earned a law degree from Laval University, as well as a Master's Degree in International Relations, and is a Member and Certified Mediator of the Quebec Bar. She joined Canada's Foreign Service in 1998 and served at the Canadian Embassy in Madrid, Spain, where she managed the Political, Education and Cultural Relations Program. Back in Ottawa, she served as a Trade Policy Officer and Legal Advisor. Her passion for interest-based negotiation, which she acquired as a member of the Canadian negotiating team to the United Nations,, the Food Aid Convention and the World Trade Organization (WTO), led her to pursue a career in conflict resolution. She was seconded to the Department of National Defence (DND) as Conflict Resolution Practitioner to Canadian Forces Base Petawawa during Canada's mission in Afghanistan. In 2007, she joined the Public Service Staffing Tribunal as a Mediator specializing in the resolution of staffing complaints across Canada, as she did subsequently for the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board (PSLREB).

Her cross-cultural expertise was invaluable when she was seconded to Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada to manage the coordination and integration of the new Ombudsman's Services into their Conflict Resolution Office. She continued to travel extensively in Canada, including to the Arctic, to deal with a wide variety of workplace issues and to provide training in harassment prevention, values and ethics, and conflict resolution. Nathalie also has expertise in group interventions, coaching, and developing training programs across Canada for employees, managers and union representatives.

Born and raised along the coastline of New Brunswick, Susie Roussel learned early on the importance of knowing yourself and where you are from in order to better understand others. She has leveraged that insight to create highly engaged teams throughout her career, delivering a strong culture of engagement and client service wherever she has worked.

Susie focused her career in the communications and marketing fields and gained significant experience in managing national communications, marketing and outreach initiatives for the Government of Canada, as well as in various non-profit organizations where she held several positions as a manager. Before joining ISED in 2016, she was a Program Manager at Procurement and Public Services Canada responsible for strengthening advertising capacity and expertise within the Government of Canada. In 2017, Susie accepted the co-Chair position of the ISED Managers' Community, where she led the network through grassroots engagement, collaboration with key stakeholders, and capacity-building initiatives that supported Public Service Renewal.

Today, she continues to live her passion for healthy workplaces as the Manager of ISED's Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. A former political science graduate, Susie also hold certificates in project management and in African studies.

MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER: Our First-Year Findings and Recommendations

ISED and the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace

Commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada and developed by Le Bureau de normalisation du Québec and the CSA Group, the National Standard for Canada for Psychological Health and Safety "is the first of its kind in the world. [It] is a set of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources intended to guide organizations in promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work."Footnote 3

ISED is implementing the Standard as part of our own Mental Health Strategy, so that we can continually improve the psychological health and safety of our workplaces. This will help us:

  • Identify and eliminate hazards that pose a risk of psychological harm to our employees
  • Assess and control the risks associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated, such as stressors related to organizational change or job demands
  • Implement structures, processes and practices that promote and facilitate psychological health and safety in the workplace
  • Foster a culture that promotes and embraces positive psychological health and safety throughout the ISED organization

There are 13 psychosocial factors outlined in the Standard that allow organizations to measure the level of psychological health and safety within our workplace. These factors are:

  1. Organizational Culture
  2. Psychological and Social Support
  3. Clear Leadership and Expectations
  4. Civility and Respect
  5. Psychological Demands
  6. Growth and Development
  7. Recognition and Reward
  8. Involvement and Influence
  9. Workload Management
  10. Engagement
  11. Balance
  12. Psychological Protection
  13. Protection of Physical Safety

Our Findings and Recommendations

The findings below are based on what ISED employees told us during consultation sessions over the course of our first six months of operation. This chart indicates which of the National Standard's 13 factors formed the basis for the 40 individual consultations conducted with the Ombudsman in fiscal year 2018–2019.

Long description below.
Text version

Figure 7: Consultation Issues — Based on the 13 Psychosocial Factors

Bar chart indicating clients concerns as they relate to the 13 Psychosocial Factors.

Psychosocial factor Number of clients
Protection of physical safety 0
Psychological protection 7
Balance 0
Engagement 3
Workload management 0
Involvement and influence 0
Recognition and reward 0
Growth and development 3
Psychological Job Fit 2
Civility and respect 8
Clear leadership and expectations 2
Psychological and social support 10
Organizational culture 5

When linked to the 13 factors in the Standard, they represent three main areas of vulnerability for our organization as follows:

  • Psychological and Social Support
  • Workload Management
  • Civility and Respect

Finding #1: Shortcomings regarding psychological and social support for employees

Definition:

"Psychological and social support comprises all supportive social interactions available at work, either with co-workers or supervisors. It refers to the degree of social and emotional integration and trust among co-workers and supervisors. It also refers to the level of help and assistance provided by others when one is performing tasks. Equally important are the workers' perceptions and awareness of organizational support. When workers perceive organizational support, it means they believe their organization values their contributions, is committed to ensuring their psychological well-being, and provides meaningful support if this well-being is compromised."

(Factor #2, National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety: Psychological and Social Support.)

What we heard from employees seeking support:

  • Employees are reluctant to speak openly with managers about personal and professional problems, including mental health conditions, due to fear of reprisal, being judged, stigma and the potential negative impact on their career progression.
  • There is a lack of flexibility or timely action on the part of certain managers of employees who have a mental health condition with functional limitations and who require temporary accommodations in order to continue working, or to successfully return to work.
  • A lack of openness has been shown by certain managers to letting employees take time off work to participate in completely confidential informal consultations, and sometimes, even reluctance in participating in conflict resolution processes, such as mediation.

Recommendations:

  • Communicate clearly to all supervisors, managers and executives the expectation from the organization that they:
    • Create and foster an environment in which every ISED employee feels free to discuss a mental health condition or a workplace issue they are experiencing, without fear of reprisal;
    • Provide their employees with unrestricted and confidential access to the Ombudsman, to any other informal conflict resolution mechanisms, and to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
  • Equip managers to become more comfortable in proactively dealing with mental health conditions, including participating in training sessions such as "The Working Mind."
  • Encourage employees and managers to participate in learning events at the Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace—learning about best practices, available tools and practical tips that can be leveraged to build healthy management practices. This is essential in a shifting culture that supports an agile, inclusive and equipped workforce.

Finding #2: Issues related to successfully managing workload to promote work-life balance

Definition:

"Workload management is present in a work environment where assigned tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished successfully within the time available. This is the risk factor that many working Canadians describe as being the biggest workplace stressor (i.e., having too much to do and not enough time to do it). It has been demonstrated that it is not just the amount of work that makes a difference but also the extent to which workers have the resources (time, equipment, support) to do the work well."

(Factor #9, National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety: Workload Management.)

There is a direct link between workload management and psychological safety (addressed in the previous finding). In order to be able to better prioritize files and offer the necessary support for success, employees should feel free to discuss this issue with their supervisor.

In that sense, what some clients told us during confidential meetings was confirmed by the results of the 2018 Public Service Employee Survey, for which the Department's results were lower than the rest of the federal public service. In 2018, there was an increase in the number of ISED employees who said that they were emotionally exhausted at the end of the day. The main reasons cited for this in the PSES were: having too many levels of approval; very short deadlines; a lack of resources; the employee turnover rate; and overly complex and onerous business processes.

According to the National Standard, "Balance is present in a work environment where there is acceptance of the need for a sense of harmony between the demands of personal life, family, and work."

What we heard from employees seeking support:

ISED employees are afraid to:

  • Ask their manager for flexible work arrangements, particularly telework, when experiencing a difficult period
  • Claim paid overtime for fear of being judged and/or scorned
  • Address the lack of workload equity among employees for fear of being marginalized or sidelined by the manager

Recommendations:

  • Supervisors, managers and executives should be open to the use of telework in order to accommodate employees who are temporarily experiencing a personal or work-related difficult time and that openness should be communicated to employees.
  • Consider all flexible work arrangements, whenever possible, in order to provide work-life balance so that ISED continues to be a competitive employer in the labour market.
  • Streamline or eliminate unnecessary administrative processes to reduce stress in the workplace and rebalance the workload within teams.

Finding #3: Shortcomings regarding interpersonal relationships and lack of civility and respect in the workplace

Definition:

"Civility and respect are present in a work environment where workers are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients, and the public. Civility and respect are based on showing esteem, care, and consideration for others, and acknowledging their dignity. An organization with good civility and respect would be able to state that:

  1. people treat each other with respect and consideration in the workplace;
  2. the organization effectively handles conflicts between stakeholders (workers, customers, clients, public, suppliers, etc.);
  3. workers from all backgrounds are treated fairly in our workplace; and
  4. the organization has effective ways of addressing inappropriate behaviour by customers or clients."

(Factor #4, National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety: Civility and Respect.)

What we heard from employees seeking support:

  • Employees were humiliated or belittled during team meetings.
  • Derogatory remarks were made towards employees, use of direct and aggressive language and inappropriate tones or even personal remarks were made during bilateral meetings, without witnesses.
  • Employees were ignored by their supervisor and their colleagues and experienced stressful situations caused by isolation.
  • Employees received highly negative feedback which was unrelated to their actual work performance.
  • Some managers are not aware that they are using direct, offensive, and at times abrasive, language.
  • Rather than rewarding employees for their successes, managers demotivate them with examples of poor performance, which are mostly irrelevant to their performance at work.
  • Some employees seem to falsely take credit for the successes of others, or neglect to publicly recognize the significant contributions of their colleagues on certain projects.
  • Some employees are not careful to respect a peaceful and productive work environment.

Recommendations:

  • Communicate clearly to all supervisors, managers and executives the expectation from the organization that they:
    • create and foster a culture of civility and respect in the ISED workplace
    • more proactively promote and encourage access to the informal conflict resolution mechanisms (Ombudsman and CPER) at all times, without any barriers employees should feel confident to use these services without providing justification, in order to preserve their confidentiality.

THERE IS HOPE; THERE IS HELP: My Story of Struggle and Recovery

by Josh Alcorn, Security Officer at ISED, Ottawa

I was "introduced" to mind-altering substances when I was 12 years old—in my case, alcohol and marijuana. It was as though everyone around me had been given a handbook on how to live life happily—except me. So, I created my own self-medicating toolkit with booze and dope as the key ingredients.

For the next 17 years, they comforted me, they eased my pain, and they masked the sense of inadequacy I was living with in my family, with my friends, and at work. I loved the feeling they gave me and I had fun using; they made all my inhibitions disappear, I felt at ease, and they gave me the comfort I had always longed for.

It is only now, at 33 years of age and in my fourth year of recovery, that I can safely say I have stepped out of the shadows and am living my life without fear.

When I think about it, there could be so many reasons why I gravitated towards substance use: family dysfunctionality, psychological trauma and, in my case, undiagnosed and untreated Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Alcoholism and dysfunctionality were a generational issue in my family—my father didn't go into recovery until he was in his fifties and my grandfather, well, he wasn't as fortunate. So, with me, it's also genetic.

When I entered adulthood, substances were becoming more readily available and more socially acceptable, so it was hard for me, as someone who always had a good job—I've been with the federal government for ten years now—to admit to myself (and to others) that substance use was becoming an issue. It was only when I began building my own family that my powerlessness started creeping up on me.

I was a binge user and used heavily during weekends, so my day-to-day ability to show up to work and be productive from Monday to Friday was "acceptable," even though I would really have been considered a "functional addict." I lived a dual life: at work, I was happy and energetic; at home, I was miserable and impatient. At work, I would nod, smile, and make believe that I had the perfect life—two cars, a single-family home, family of four, and a dog. This protected me from answering honestly to questions such as "what's wrong?" or "how are you doing?" I did not risk showing vulnerability as I feared being judged, so I lived a lie instead; my relationships lacked breadth and my interactions were superficial.

On weekends, I gave myself the right to do what I wanted, and that always involved substance use. As a result, I was incapable of attending to my duties as a husband and father. This went on for a very long time; deep down inside, I was unhappy and I did not know why. This cycle eventually brought me to my knees.

Then my seven-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. It was the beginning of the end of my struggle with addiction—but I was yet to realize it. For the next six months, I had no sense of time moving, I had no mental or emotional capacity to deal in that dimension. So, I dove into the familiar substances—and I added antidepressants to the mix. I had reached a point where I couldn't live without using substances, and I couldn't live with using them. Until the ultimatum.

It was after a night of heavy substance use when I woke up in a daze. I couldn't remember anything about the night before. But then I heard around me the sounds of my life—my family, my kids, my wife—and I knew I was OK. I went back to sleep, happy. When I woke up the next time, I heard nothing. I walked into the kitchen and they were gone. All that remained was a note from my wife. The sense of emptiness I felt, picturing the people I love the most fade away, was what I needed in order to surrender my addiction, my substances, my struggle. This, I realized, was my "rock bottom."

Most people need to reach a crucial turning point in their lives before they take action to change things, to turn things around, to make amends. To recover. I am sharing this with you because I want to bring that "rock bottom" up a bit and help other people who are suffering. So, if you think you have no choice or nowhere to go for help, I can tell you that there is hope; there is help. I am living proof of that.

We now have more resources and supports in the workplace than ever before: the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) is a tool that I have always found helpful, and the Mental Health First Aid course offered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada was quite the eye-opener for me; we also have a new Ombudsman for Mental Health and Employee Well-Being at ISED and I have benefited from a number of events at the Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Ultimately, however, it's about each of us being there for each other. We don't really know what our colleagues are going through, beyond what we see on the surface. So, we should always be ready to be there when called upon, especially when someone is returning to the workplace after an absence. In these cases, I no longer dive into asking how the person is feeling as it may trigger unwelcome emotions. Instead, I say things like "it's nice to see you back," or "I'm glad you took the time you needed." I just show that I'm there for them and make myself available.

When I returned to work after some time off to deal with my issues, a colleague sent me an email and said how amazing it was, this "mountain" I had climbed, and they expressed hope that I was "on the other side." I was touched and that helped me greatly in my return to work. But the thing is, I'm still climbing through that mountain range—it's just that, today, I have the proper shoes.

And you can have them too—you don't need to walk alone or walk barefoot. There is hope; there is help.

At time of publication, Josh Alcorn has left ISED and secured a promotion with Health Canada. He continues in his recovery and shares his story as a member of the Federal Speakers' Bureau on Healthy Workplaces administered by the TBS Centre of Expertise on Mental Health in the Workplace. Josh can be reached at joshua.alcorn@hc-sc.gc.ca.

MENTAL HEALTH TOOLS & RESOURCES: Learn More and/or Start a Dialogue with Colleagues

Videos

13 Factors: Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

  • Reduce the stigma around mental health by using these videos to start an ongoing dialogue in your team—maybe one per team meeting! From the Mental Health Commission of Canada, these videos address each of the 13 psychosocial factors which comprise the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and include an introductory video on the Standard itself.
  • A Facilitator Guide is also available, explaining why each factor is important—and what you can do to promote them.

Depression at Work: An Employee Perspective

  • A two-minute video in which an employee who experienced depression at work talks about what he needs from his manager(s) to stay productive. The video is part of "Workplace Strategies for Mental Health," an initiative of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Managing the Mental Health of Others: A Manager's Experience

  • Follow John, who has just been promoted to manager, as he is exposed to the mental health issues of those who now report to him. This video is also part of "Workplace Strategies for Mental Health," an initiative of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Learning/Training

The Working Mind

  • An education-based program designed to address and promote mental health and reduce the stigma of mental illness in the workplace, this training is offered in three versions: one for trainers (five days), one for managers (eight hours), and one for employees (four hours). The objective of the course is to give employees and managers the practical knowledge of mental health and mental illness so they can:
  • Use the mental health continuum to recognize change in their mental health, and that of others
  • Be prepared to use skills to improve their coping and resiliency
  • Reduce both public and self-stigma
  • Be willing to be a part of a supportive workplace

Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid is a training course designed to give members of the public the skills to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis. The evidence behind the program demonstrates that it builds mental health literacy, decreases stigmatizing attitudes, and helps individuals identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness. The course teaches people how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, provide initial help, and guide a person towards appropriate professional help.

Canada School of Public Service

  • The Canada School of Public Service offers a number of classroom and online courses, as well as videos, events and links to other resources. Once you have logged in via GCcampus, you can access materials covering a wide range of topics, including:
    • Respectful and Inclusive Workplace
    • Occupational Health and Safety
    • Mental Health
    • Respect and Inclusivity
    • Work-Life Balance/Well-Being
    • Mindfulness
    • Communication and Conflict Management
    • Prevention of Violence, Harassment and Discrimination

Online Resources

The Mental Health Commission of Canada

The TBS Centre of Expertise for Mental Health in the Workplace

TBS Center for Wellness, Inclusion and Diversity in the Public Service

The Conference Board of Canada

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health/Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

WE'RE HERE TO HELP: Contact Us

Mario Baril
Ombudsman
343-291-3053
Ombudsman Confidential Email: ic.ombudsmanised-isde.ic@canada.ca
(Twitter) @mariobaril
(LinkedIn) www.linkedin.com/in/mariobaril

Eve Nadeau
Associate Ombudsman
343-291-4157
Ombudsman Confidential Email: ic.ombudsmanised-isde.ic@canada.ca

Nathalie Auger
Director, Conflict Prevention and Early Resolution (CPER)
613-948-9076
CPER Confidential Email: ic.cper-prc.ic@canada.ca

Susie Roussel, Manager
Canadian Innovation Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace
613-301-2591
Mental Health Centre Generic Email: mhc-csm@canada.ca

Annex A Standards of practice of the ISED Ombudsman, Mental Health and Employee Well-Being, ISED Canada

As presented at DMC in November 2018, and based on the International Ombudsman Association Standard of Practice (http://faculty.tamucc.edu/andrewp/ioa_standards.html)

1. Independence

1.1. The Ombudsman is a designated neutral reporting to the Deputy Minister and independent from the organizational reporting structure;

1.2. The Ombudsman is independent from other organizational entities. He has no reporting relationship to any sectors of the department;

1.3. The Ombudsman holds no other position within the organization which might compromise independence.

1.4 The Ombudsman exercises sole discretion over whether or how to act regarding an individual's concern, a trend or concerns of multiples individuals over time. The Ombudsman may initiate action* through an informal process on a concern identified through the Ombudsman direct observation.

1.5. The Ombudsman has access to all information and all individuals in the organization, as permitted by law;

* If verbal consent is given by the client, the Ombudsman may pursue an informal discussion with the Assistant Deputy Minister, set up a meeting with the Assistant Deputy Minister and the client, a meeting with the Assistant Deputy Minister and a group of affected employees. The Deputy Head, Deputy and Associate Deputy Minister may be invited as appropriate.

2. Impartiality

2.1 The Ombudsman strives for impartiality, fairness and objectivity in the treatment of people and the consideration of issues. The Ombudsman advocates for fair and equitable processes.

2.2 The Ombudsman has no other role within the organization that could compromise his neutrality and impartiality.

2.3 The Ombudsman has a responsibility to consider the legitimate concerns and interests of all individuals (employees and management) affected by the matter under considerations.

2.4 The Ombudsman helps develop a range of responsible options to resolve problems and facilitate discussion to identify the best options.

3. Confidentiality

3.1 The Ombudsman holds all communications with those seeking assistance in strict confidence and take all reasonable steps to safeguard confidentiality, including the following: the Ombudsman does not reveal, and must not be required to reveal the identity of any individual contacting the Ombudsman Office, nor does the Ombudsman reveal information provided in confidence that could lead to the identification of any individual contacting the Ombudsman Office, without that individual's express permission. The Ombudsman takes specific action related to an individual's issue only with the individual's express permission and only to the extent permitted, and even then at the sole discretion of the Ombudsman. The only exception to this privilege of confidentiality is where there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm, and where there is no other reasonable option.

3.2 Communications between the Ombudsman and others are considered privileged.

3.3 The Ombudsman does not testify in any formal process inside the organization and resist testifying in any formal process outside of the organization regarding a visitor's contact with the Ombudsman or confidential information communicated to the Ombudsman,

3.4 The Ombudsman keeps no records containing identifying information on behalf of the organization.

3.5 The Ombudsman maintains information (notes, appointment calendars) in a secure location and has a standard practice for the destruction of such information. Documents will be destroyed following the production of the Annual Report.

3.6 The Ombudsman prepares any data and reports in a manner that protects confidentiality.

4. Informality

4.1 The Ombudsman functions on an informal basis by such means as listening, providing and receiving information, identifying and reframing issues, developing a range of responsible options, and, with permission and at the Ombudsman discretion, engaging in informal intervention. The Ombudsman helps people develop new ways to solve problems themselves.

4.2 The Ombudsman, as an informal and off-the-record resource pursues resolution of concerns and looks into procedural irregularities and broader system problems when appropriate.

4.3 The Ombudsman does not make binding decisions, or formally adjudicate issues for the organization.

4.4 The Ombudsman supplements, but does not replace any formal channels. The use of the Ombudsman Office is voluntary, and is not a required step in any process.

4.5 The Ombudsman does not participate in any formal investigative of adjudicative procedures. Formal investigations should be conducted by others. When a formal investigation is requested, the Ombudsman refers individuals to the appropriate office at ISED. The Ombudsman will not be involved in the selection or procurement of any investigative firm.

4.6 The Ombudsman identifies trends, issues, and concerns about policies and procedures, including potential future issues and concerns, without breaking confidentiality of anonymity, and provides recommendations for responsibly addressing them.

Date modified: