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Org Change and Mental Health

A weekly post in which I share (some of) the most thought-provoking content I read this week(ish), which I am too lazy to write full blog posts about.


Mental Health in the Workplace

Morneau Shepell finds organizational change linked to physical and mental health sick leave – Morneau Shepell

January 25th was the 7th annual Bell Let’s Talk Day here in Canada, an initiative to reduce stigma, and raise awareness and money for mental health. This year saw incredible rates of public engagement (131,705,010 million tweets, texts, calls, and Instagram posts), and raised $6,545,250.00 CAD for mental health in Canada.

Aligned with Let’s Talk Day, Morneau Shepell (a leading Human Resources consulting and employee assistance provider), released the results of a new study on mental health in the Canadian workplace. Their findings, while unlikely to be a surprise to HR professionals, do quantify the extent to which workplace changes impact employee mental health and well being.

New research announced today by Morneau Shepell found that organizational changes have led to employees taking sick leave from work. In a recent survey of employees and employers across Canada, nearly half (46 per cent) of employees have taken time off work and/or noticed other employees take more time off work following workplace changes.

Interestingly, it seems that the more localized, individual changes associated with job re-design have a more significant impact on the likelihood of an employee to take sick leave.

“We have found that among the types of organizational changes, job re-design has the strongest correlation to sick leave for both physical and mental health,” said Alan Torrie, president and CEO at Morneau Shepell. “This type of change sometimes gets less focus than things like mergers but it is clearly important to the day-to-day experience of employees,” he explained.

Another surprising finding was that 75 per cent of respondents indicated that workplace culture was the most important factor for organizations to address to support mental health in the workplace. Workplace culture ranked above the “importance of employees’ willingness to get help (71 per cent), employees’ coping skills and resilience (70 per cent), reducing stigma among employees (65 per cent), reducing stigma among managers (65 per cent) and concerns about employees returning from disability leave (62 per cent)”.

This finding bears further exploration; just what aspects or characteristics of a workplace’s culture contribute to better employee mental health? What culture  interventions can create a climate more conducive to a mentally healthy team?

I encourage you to spend a few minutes to fully review the findings. You can also access the Bell Let’s Talk Toolkit and other information and resources here.

Performance Management

25% of Men Cry After a Progress Review – Fortune

Calls to “kill the annual performance review” have been growing louder for the last few years, and seem to have reached at least a minor crescendo with the smattering of articles this month about Adobe’s report entitled “Performance Reviews Get a Failing Grade”. The results of this survey indicate that 25% quarter of men and 18% of women cry after their performance appraisal.

This is unfortunate, and I think HR gets it: everyone hates performance appraisals. But wherever you and your organization find yourselves in the debate about whether to kill or keep the annual appraisal (or other forms of traditional performance management), can we try to keep clear heads about why?

There’s no doubt that anything causing a substantial portion of your team to cry needs a look. But let’s be clear: this alone isn’t evidence that you should abandon your current approach to performance feedback and management. This response could indicate that your managers are terrible at delivering performance feedback, or a number of other important and complex challenges with your current performance management framework (such as bias, unrealistic workloads, favoritism, or trust between employees and their manager).

I’ve no great love for traditional performance management approaches, but I do think that instead of succumbing to the emotional response appraisals provoke,  we should be asking ourselves: “What is the goal of my organization’s performance management approach?” and “Is it achieving that objective?” The answers to these questions should inform our approach to PM, not what the company of the moment is doing, and not (only) how uncomfortable discussions and feedback about performance make people (managers or employees).

The reality is that performance discussions are sometimes going to be hard to deliver and receive, whether they’re annual, or a much more frequent and informal cadence. We should strive to make them the least distressing they can be, while also being as effective as possible. Whether that means throwing out traditional performance entirely is a question we need to each consider in relation to our organizations’ specific needs and objectives.

Gig Economy

It’s Gonna Get a Whole Lot Worse, a Whole Lot Faster. Unless …  Laszlo Bock

If you’re interested in a more in-depth read on why it’s so critical for HR professionals to understand what the “gig economy” is, and how it’s already impacting work and the very definition of ’employee’, you can check out my post from earlier this week here: HR: What we Don’t Know About the Gig Economy Might Hurt Us.

I also came across this interesting article from Laszlo Bock, former SVP of People Ops at Google, in which he outlines “Three trends…conspiring to make 2017 a year of higher job insecurity and higher odds of individual economic ruin.” Not a sunshine and rainbows post.

“…the gig economy is a brittle one. While some prefer the flexibility, for too many it’s a way to pile on even more hours in a struggle to make ends meet. That exacts a physical and psychological toll. And it often comes without health care, vacation, and other benefits, which buffer individuals from the random bad stuff that happens in life.”

“The gig economy could also get worse. As it grows, average worker income will drop because not only will an increasing supply of more gig workers (who often come to gig work for lack of alternatives) drive down the average labor rate, but the companies coordinating the work will seek to extract more profit.”

This sounds grim. Not everyone agrees that the gig economy is going to hurt workers overall, but these are real concerns, and admittedly, it’s hard for many of us to not to look at the world through dystopia-coloured glasses right now. If Bock is right, we still may have the opportunity to plan for these eventualities.  Bock outlines three significant and coordinated actions that must be undertaken by the educational system, employers, and government to ensure that current trends in the economy and labour market don’t translate to increased risk and job insecurity for workers:

  1. “The educational system needs to become more focused on analytical, social, and emotional skills.” (Remember, these are the skills least likely to be automated.)
  2. “Employers too need to invest in this kind of training.Employers also need to hire differently, and get better at assessing potential, instead of writing someone off because they don’t have the right experience.”
  3. “Finally, the government needs to encourage this. It should provide incentives for employers to take bets on people and make longer-term investments, and support and reward non-profit educational institutions that experiment with and implement new curricula.”

Okay, so not something we can get done over the weekend. However, this is a thought-provoking and nuanced assessment that acknowledges the interconnections of the causes and solutions to the unprecedented changes we are seeing in the economy and labour market.

What did you read this week? On a scale of 1 to 10 (with 10 being ‘Old Yeller’-level sobbing), how much do you hate traditional performance appraisals?

Image credit: Rosan Harmens via

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