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  • Writer's pictureKaren Stern

Two Big Learnings from the CAMH Business Leaders Executive Summit

From aligning teams around purpose to equipping managers with mental health monitoring skills, the summit provided valuable strategies for prioritizing mental health in the workplace.

Last week, I attended the CAMH Business Leaders Executive Summit. The topic of discussion was “Prioritizing Workplace Mental Health through Challenge and Change.” A variety of speakers and panelists took the stage to share their thoughts, strategies and experiences to make mental health and wellbeing a priority at work.

Moderator and panelists on stage in front of large screen.
Mark Harrison, Alicia Samuel, Dionne Sinclair, Jenny Bird, Philip Missler

1. Align your team around a powerful purpose

In her keynote, the incomparable Dr. Juveria Zaheer talked about the workplace she manages: the Emergency Department at CAMH. Her team has spent the last three years at the center of a mental health crisis fueled by the pandemic. While leaders and managers everywhere struggled with the mental health challenges of the pandemic, most of us were - let's be honest - doing less important (and grueling) work. Dr. Zaheer was both helping to support the city in general while keeping an eye on her team specifically. We didn’t even get to the topic of how she herself stayed healthy.

Her strategies ranged from aligning her team around a powerful purpose - "keeping the doors open when it feels like the world is falling apart" - making time for her team in the quiet hours of the morning before things really got busy, and the simplest of all - pizza lunches.

2. Have meaningful check-ins (and add it to job descriptions)

Next up was a panel moderated by Mark Harrison who infused passion, intelligence, and humour (as he always does - although I may be biased) into the conversation. The panelists - Dionne Sinclair, Alicia Samuel, Jenny Bird, and Philip Missler - shared a human-centric theme in their responses and approaches. Jenny Bird talked about the role of kindness in leadership and running a business. I was lucky to have her at my table where, after the panel discussion, we talked about the one thing we could do tomorrow to prioritize mental health in the workplace. Jenny sat down and immediately said that she wanted to go first, having had a chance to reflect while on the panel. I admit to being distracted by her (beautiful) Jenny Bird jewelry, but as soon as she said her response, I was riveted. On the panel, she had talked a lot about the need for managers to check in with their people in a meaningful way but had realized that she has never told them that that is part of their role - in their job interviews, job descriptions, and how they are held accountable.

We all have “people management” in the job descriptions of managers, but the orientation tends to be around mentoring, coaching, and performance management. Have we equipped them to go further and check in on their team's mental health? I hope you agree that this was a simple but powerful insight, and clearly a very profound one.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and where you’ve either struggled or been successful at both making the monitoring of mental health a competency for managers and how you’ve equipped them to do it.

(Photo description: Moderator and panelists on stage in front of large screen.)

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