COMPASS for Workplaces

Key Messages

  • Mental illness impacts a large number of people in our community
  • Having a mentally healthy workforce can improve productivity and reduce costs
  • Workplaces are an important setting that can help support people who are struggling with mental health problems and get them to the support they need.
  • Minds Connected can assist in promoting positive mental health

Mental Health At Work

Good mental health is not simply the absence of illness.  According to the World health Organization (2014), mental health is a state of well-being where individuals are able to realize their potential, cope with day to day stresses, work productively, and can contribute to their community.  Individuals who are flourishing are those who report regularly experiencing:

  • Emotional well-being (interest, satisfaction and happiness with life)
  • Psychological well-being (meaning, purpose, confidence, and self-acceptance)
  • Social well-being (belonging and social connection)

1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem in a given year and the workplace is an important setting in which we can address mental health.  A psychologically unsafe workplace can increase absenteeism, decrease productivity, and can perpetuate a toxic work environment.  In contrast, a psychologically safe workplace can improve recruitment and retention, staff engagement, sustainability, and health and safety. 

Having a mentally healthy workplace is about more than just addressing mental illness.  Workplaces can create a sense of meaning, purpose, and belonging.  Workplaces can help to promote positive mental health, provide universal coping strategies, identify and intervene early when there is a problem, as well as reduce the onset, severity, impact and duration of mental health problems. 

Whether an employee struggles with mental health problems themselves or is supporting a loved one who does, promoting mental health and creating and psychologically safe workplace has benefits above and beyond the direct impact on workplace attendance and productivity.  A psychologically healthy and safe workplace is one that promotes employees’ psychological well-being and actively works to prevent harm to employee psychological health due to negligent, reckless or intentional acts.

Mental Health in Sarnia-Lambton

Many people are impacted by mental health problems with 1 in 5 Lambton residents report being diagnosed with a mental illness and 1 in 4 report taking medication or time off work or school to deal with mental health problems.  74% of residents in the workforce report very good or excellent mental health which is promising but leaves room for improvement.  Two thirds of residents reported their employer promotes positive mental health but just over half indicated they would be comfortable speaking to their employer about mental health.  We can do better.

Check out the Lambton County Mental Health Profile 2018


Compasses don’t tell us which direction to go but they help us to know where we are and make a decision about where to go.  COMPASS can help us to orient ourselves and our work towards becoming a mentally healthier space. 


Gain buy-in from the necessary people or departments in your organization.  In order for an initiative to be successful, commitment from decision-makers is important.  The level of commitment may differ depending on your organization’s knowledge about mental health and could include signing onto a charter, aligning efforts with the organization’s strategic plan, or earmarking resources for the work.  Assess your organization’s readiness at, a resource supported by the Ministry of Labour and developed by Ontario’s health and safety and mental health services. 


Identify a group of committed individuals who are interested in supporting a mental health initiative.  This could include a diverse group of people including:

  • Leaders and decision-makers
  • Staff with different perspectives and roles
  • Involvement from groups that may already carry out similar work such as human resources, a social or well-being committee, or others if relevant

You could consider developing a terms of reference to clarify the role of the group in this work. 


Even though you want to get started with initiatives, it’s important to understand what exists in your community already.  Answering the following questions will help you to understand (and save you work in the future):

  • What does our organization already know about mental health and mental illness?
    • What gaps exist in your knowledge?
    • What do you wish you knew more about?
    • What do others say?  Ask a broad range of people in your organization
    • What is missing?
  • What mental health care exists?
    • In the community? Check out Minds Connected Community Services
    • In your own organization?  Do you have access to an employee assistance program? Are any staff trained in mental health first aid or other certifications? How do you currently support and provide accommodations for staff with mental health problems?
  • What is our capacity to deliver mental health awareness education? 
    • What resources do we currently have to support a mental health initiative?
    • Who else can we leverage for expertise and resources?
  • What is our ultimate vision for our organization related to mental health?
    • Is it aligned with other visions/goals we have for our organization?


Once you’ve decided on an intervention, it’s time to develop a plan.  A one-time presentation is a good start but is unlikely to create the long-term change that you want to see in your organization.  Not sure where to start?  You could consider assessing your organization as a whole with the help of Guarding Minds at Work which will highlight your strengths and opportunities for improvement.  Planning the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the program or initiative will help things to run as smoothly as possible.  Delegating responsibilities will be helpful both to alleviate the burden on one person and bring more people along in the process. 

Here are a couple of other things to remember:

  • One-time events and presentations build awareness but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t last long. Smaller, repeated awareness tends to stick better. 
  • Safety first!  Psychological safety is important when talking about mental health problems. If you think a conversation may become emotional, make sure you know who can help or invite a mental health professional in to be available on site. 

Plan to evaluate your initiatives before you start acting.  Answer this question: how will you know your work as made a difference?  What information can you share with others to demonstrate your impact?


And.. GO!  The plan is in place so it’s time to execute it.  Keep note of any changes, bumps, and successes so you can adapt and improve.  Most importantly, keep at it.  Implementing a new program can be tough but most programs need a certain “dosage” for it to become effective. 

Evaluate as you go.  Take stock of how the program is going and measure the outcomes the intervention is designed to bolster. 


So, what did you learn?  How and with whom can we share our learnings?  Let everyone know how it went!  We can help you analyze some of your evaluation data so you can share back with your relevant stakeholders to celebrate your success and help others take advantage of the lessons you learned. 

Sharing can be helpful for the next stage, sustaining your efforts.  Sharing your results with your staff, students, Board leaders, school community, and potential funders will help to rally support for your efforts and help others to see the value in the program going forward.  And don’t forget to celebrate!


Learning about mental health doesn’t just happen one time.  Creating a mentally healthy workplace is a process and so determining how you want to sustain the learning, program, or initiative is important to the sustain the benefits!  You may want to consider:

  • Developing a multi-year strategy to increase capacity in the workplace.
  • Embedding mental health-related content into orientation for new employees.
  • Engaging new staff, the Board of Directors, and even patrons.
  • Giving training and expertise to specific staff members who may have more contact with employees with mental health problems such as supervisors, managers, and human resources. 


World Health Organization, 2014.