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In light of the current situation, it is important to highlight key wellness and mental health resources available to you and your family, as well as specific tips that can help you recognize a decline in a colleague’s mental health and how to address it. The Wellness Program Digital Workplace site and the Wellness JUSnet page are also available for additional resources.
If you need support or have questions about mental health or wellness, please contact Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and/or the Justice Wellness Team. These services are safe and confidential. You may also find it helpful to consult LifeSpeak.
Stay connected with #GCMentalHealth and follow @CEMHW_CESMMT on Twitter.
On this page you will find:
- Tips for maintaining healthy relationships while easing restrictions to returning to the workplace
- Top 10 tips for working at home and maintaining mental health
- Tips for maintaining relationships while teleworking
- How to recognize a change in someone’s mental health
- Contact information for support services
- Other wellness and mental health resources
- Ergonomic tips for remote work
Tips for maintaining healthy relationships while easing restrictions to returning to the workplace
We all experience crises differently. As we navigate through this unprecedented time in our lives, we are bound to encounter some unique challenges. Seeing as safety precautions will continue for the near future, we will face a different reality for some time. These are some key points to be mindful of for maintaining healthy relationships as we will ease restrictions to return gradually back to our workplaces:
Sustaining relationships virtually
We may continue to see a high number of employees working from home. Due to this, it is important to stay connected through email, phone or video. Whether you reach out to see how your co-worker is doing, or would like to discuss work, communicating regularly is good and enhances relationships. In addition, it allows everyone to feel involved when working remotely.
Communicating our needs effectively
Fear and anxiety are common emotions during times of uncertainty. To avoid possible negative impacts on our relationships in the workplace, it is important to be clear and respectful when communicating our boundaries to colleagues. This will limit the possibility of misunderstandings and conflicts. Conversely, if you are comfortable asking colleagues about their preferences and boundaries is a thoughtful approach to take.
How we communicate best may vary by team, as some will look to organize a group meeting to discuss their feelings and needs, while others may prefer to have individual conversations. The key is to communicate in a kind and compassionate manner. Doing so will help maintain and strengthen relationships.
With the exception of occasional virtual meetings, the primary means of communication during this time have been email and telephone exchanges. While these are useful methods, they can also be limiting since you are unable to perceive or convey some key nonverbal cues. Nonverbal indicators such as smiling and eye contact are crucial to our interactions as they make for a more human experience, and add missing elements to email and phone conversations. While this point is positive in many respects, it is equally challenging, as we must once again be mindful of our behaviour around others. Being aware of our actions is important, as any misunderstandings – whether verbal or nonverbal – can create conflict.
Reconnecting with coworkers while respecting boundaries
Similar to the previous point, reconnecting with coworkers in the office will be beneficial to employees and team morale. However, it is important to express compassion and understanding upon your return to the workplace since everyone experiences events differently. While some will look for social interactions, others may have fears and reservations.
We must be compassionate towards our colleagues, as each individual experiences situations differently; this includes being understanding of their feelings and circumstance at home. While everyone will be impacted to varying degrees, situations at home may ultimately define how employees will act in the workplace; for example, those living with children, seniors, or any other vulnerable group, may want to take extra precautions in the workplace. For example, when interacting with colleagues or passing around documents. For this reason, before judging or questioning someone’s reservations, try to put yourself in their shoes; whether or not you are aware of their situation, be mindful that your colleagues are justified to feel and act in a way that makes them feel safe.
Are you feeling overwhelmed? If so, slowing down to manage your emotions will provide some space for you to respond more productively to situations. If your return to the office elicits feelings that could create conflict, please contact the ICMS team by email at email@example.com or by phone at 1-877-944-4414.
- Camarinha-Matos, L. & Afsarmanesh, H. (2008). Concept of Collaboration. Encyclopedia of Networked and Virtual Organizations.
- Eunson, B. (2012). Non-Verbal Communication. Clayton, Australia. Monash University.
- Khemesh, S. (2019). Effective Communication Techniques. Anadolu University
Top 10 tips for working at home and maintaining mental health
- Set a schedule. Routine helps us physically and mentally prepare for our day.
- Set boundaries at work and at home.
- Respect your limits. Resist the temptation to work beyond your regular day, and share your limits with others to avoid burnout.
- Call or text a work buddy to feel more connected.
- Take virtual coffee breaks.
- Create a healthy sleep hygiene.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Have a dedicated space for your home office to create boundaries between work and home life.
- Only obtain information on the COVID-19 situation from reliable sources, and limit the duration and frequency of these updates.
- Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to the news.
For additional resources and guidance visit the Wellness Program’s Tips for Managers and Tips for Employees pages on the Digital Workspace.
In collaboration with the Innovation Council and the Workplace Branch, Communications has created illustrated tips about working from home.
Maintaining positive relationships while teleworking
Given most of us are now working from home, the Informal Conflict Management System team (ICMS) has helpful advice for managing the impact of telework, which comes with the potential for unique communication challenges. Here are a few quick tips for keeping up your relationships with your colleagues while working from a distance:
Take care with your tone
With so much of our communication happening by email and text instead of face-to-face, it’s even more important than usual to watch how we’re typing. Make sure your emails are clear and kind, and give others the benefit of the doubt when you read theirs.
Some things are best said out loud
While our reliance on email has increased, it’s still not the best medium for some kinds of communication. Having complex, urgent, or emotionally charged conversations by email can make it difficult and frustrating to get your point across, or cause delays if someone isn’t checking their email. Voice and video calls aren’t perfect, but they may feel like a step closer to being in person.
Stay in touch
Group calls, texts, and instant messaging can help your team stay connected - on a personal basis as well as a professional one. Make time to check up on your colleagues.
Solicit input and feedback
Make sure everybody feels valued and heard during your long-distance meetings. Solicit input from all participants, ask questions to clarify, and make sure to listen to feedback. Summarize what you have heard or ask clarifying questions to make sure participants feel understood or have an opportunity to clarify before misunderstandings happen.
Be clear on your purpose
Even more so than with a face-to-face meeting, you want to make sure to set your objectives in advance. It can be more difficult to run a meeting smoothly without the non-verbal cues we use in person, like nodding or raising a hand. Let attendees know what to expect so they know how best to participate. Being clear on the purpose will help keep the meeting on track and will give all participants a clear sense of direction.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you are looking for a safe and confidential space to work through a situation that may create conflict – early intervention often leads to better outcomes for everyone. Keep in mind that pausing and slowing down can provide some space for you to respond more effectively to situations.
Please contact the ICMS by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-877-944-4414.
How to recognize a change in someone’s mental health
During times of crisis, it is particularly important to look for changes in your colleagues’ state of mental health. In a virtual work environment, you can:
- Listen for cues during phone conversations (e.g. tone of voice)
- Ask questions during regular check-ins
- If you are a manager, ask your employees to create a buddy system so they can speak about their feelings to someone they feel comfortable with
- Take note of behaviours you are observing. Someone in distress might show signs by how they are reacting (e.g. constant complaining or venting, tone in emails that is different from their normal state, comments about not sleeping well or feeling anxious and overwhelmed)
If you have observed behaviours that concern you and you have a good relationship with the individual, give them a call and mention what you have noticed. Start with: “I have observed…” and share the change in behaviour(s) that you have observed and your concern. If they express that they are struggling, you could refer them to confidential resources, such as EAP or Justice Wellness Team.
If you don’t know your colleague very well, or you aren’t comfortable speaking with them about mental health, you can raise your concerns with your manager, contact the Justice Wellness Team, or the EAP for confidential guidance.
LifeSpeak is a digital wellness platform that provides employees and their families with 24/7 access to leading experts in mental and physical health, financial health, family relationships and career skills development.
You can access LifeSpeak from anywhere (e.g. from your desktop, personal computer, cell phone, tablet, etc.) to watch videos, seek relevant information and practical strategies from experts and join web chats with an expert who can answer your questions directly and confidentially.
The site features a dedicated COVID-19 section with great articles and videos.
You and your family members can access the service free of charge at canada.lifespeak.com. For log-in information, please consult the Wellness Branch page.
Employee Assistance Program
The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provides bilingual, confidential and professional counselling services to Government of Canada employees and their family members, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sometimes talking to a mental health professional can help you regain a healthy perspective on the current situation and its impact on you.
- Telephone: 1-800-268-7708
- For the hearing impaired: 1-800-567-5803
- Departmental coordinators for the Employee Assistance Program
- Specialized Organizational Services (SOS) (resource for managers)
Executive Counselling Services
Hosted by APEX, and free of charge to all Executives across the federal public service, this service provides a:
- discreet and confidential sounding board
- safe place to discuss sensitive issues
- one-stop shop for advice and referral to specialized services available to the Executive community
Regions Across Canada
Visit the Wellness Digital Workspace for one-pagers on internal and external services by region. For recommended resources from Justice and across Canada, visit the Wellness Program page on JUSnet.
Learn about the wellness and mental health-related resources available for Indigenous communities across Canada.
- Hope for Wellness Help Line: 1-855-242-3310
- Talk for Healing (English only)
- Here to Help (BC residents only – English only)
- Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team – Medical Centre
- Kamasiaqtut Nunavut Helpline: 1-800-265-3333 (English only)
- Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Crisis Line: 1-844-413-6649
- KUU-US Crisis Line Society (English only)
- Youth Line: 250-723-2040
- Adult Line: 250-723-4050 or 1-800-588-8717
Crisis Services Canada
- Call toll free: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 1-833-456-4566
- Text: Available daily from 4pm to 12 am EST, by texting 45645
Kids Help Phone
- Call: 1-800-668-6868
- Text: Text “CONNECT” to 686868 (also serving adults)
- Chat: Available from 6pm-2am ET through the Kids Help Phone website
Lawyer Assistance Programs
Visit the Canadian Bar Association for a link to the confidential, free Lawyer Assistance Program in your region.
Wellness Together Canada
Wellness Together Canada is a new individualized online mental health and wellness resource developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada. It provides individuals with a mechanism to assess their personal mental health status, then further tools and information based on those results to address individual needs.
There are modules that provide specific resources to assist individuals with addressing low mood, anxiety, substance use, social isolation and relationship issues. You are highly encouraged to explore this rich and interesting resource.
Treasury Board Secretariat
- Centre of Expertise on Mental Health in the Workplace
- Resources for employees for mental health in the workplace
Public Service Health Care Plan
- Message from the Chief Human Resources Officer – COVID-19: Temporary Public Service Health Care Plan changes
- Public service group insurance benefit plans
- Services and information
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) - Temporary measures: Public Service Health Care Plan (PSHCP)
- Emergency Benefit While Travelling
- Temporary extension of travel emergency benefits
- Drug benefit
- Temporary relaxing of the dispensing limit for maintenance medications that allow the pharmacist to exercise professional discretion whether to dispense the medication sooner
- Medical Practitioners Benefit
- Temporary changes to accepted mental health practitioners
- Temporary changes to prescription requirements
Provincial and Territorial Wellness Services Sites
- British Columbia
- New Brunswick
- Newfoundland and Labrador
- Northwest Territories
- Nova Scotia
- Prince Edward Island
- Mental Health Commission of Canada
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Ergonomic tips for remote work
Teleworking can be challenging on a number of levels. It can take time (and some creativity) to set up a proper workstation to avoid physical injury. It also means getting used to a different work environment and schedule, as the separation between ‘home’ and ‘work’ becomes less clear. If you continue to experience challenges after implementing some of the tips listed below, speak with your manager.
Click through the links below for some tips on how to make sure you are comfortable and healthy—both physically and mentally while working at home.
For more information, check out the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s Ergonomic Fact Sheets.
Setting up Your Home Workstation
Defining Your Workspace
When working from home, the first thing to do is define your workspace.
- If you have the option, choose a separate room to become your new office, e.g., the guest room.
- If you don’t have an extra room, set aside a place in your house or apartment for your workstation. (And as tempting as it may be, don’t work from your bed!)
- Wherever you set up your workspace, make sure you have a comfortable seat and good lighting. Natural light is a factor in productivity, so create your workspace near a window if possible.
Working at a Table
A common ergonomic mistake is to set yourself up to work at a workstation that is too high—as is the case with the majority of kitchen tables, for example. If a table is too high, your elbows rest too low to the level of the keyboard and you can develop shoulder pain. If you prefer to work standing, or a suitable table is not available, consider temporary alternatives such as an ironing board or a countertop.
Two things to keep in mind when setting up your home workstation:
- Wrists and elbows must be at the same height as the work surface.
- The majority of your forearms should rest on the armrests of your chair or the work surface.
Selecting a Chair
The chair is one of the most important elements of an ergonomic workstation, especially if your worktable is not adjustable. If your chair is too low, use a cushion or towels to raise you so that you can have your arm position level with your worktable. Consider placing another cushion on your back to provide lumbar support if your seat is too deep.
Tips on adjusting your chair:
- Keep your knees and thighs parallel to the ground, at a 90-degree angle.
- Keep both feet on the ground. If necessary, use a footrest to relieve pressure under your thighs. If no footrest is available, you can use a shoebox, a stool, packs of printing paper or books.
- Support your back with a backrest or cushion.
- Adjust your armrests to the same height as the work surface.
Working with a Laptop
Working with a laptop requires a certain amount of adaptation since the screen and keyboard are connected.
Reducing pain or discomfort:
- Where possible, work with a separate keyboard and mouse.
- If you have a separate keyboard and mouse, use a binder, book or box to raise your laptop to a proper viewing height.
- If you have access to a separate monitor, connect it to your laptop and adjust the height to help keep your head in a neutral posture.
- If you require a palm rest but do not have one available, consider using a small towel.
Using your Screen
To protect your eyes, install the computer near a source of natural light, if possible, and at a distance of one and a half metres from the window. Position the screen so that the sun does not hit your screen directly.
- Position your screen at arm’s length. If you wear progressive lenses, you may need to bring the screen closer, about one arm’s-length (without the hand).
- Adjust the screen to eye level to allow for a neutral head posture. If you wear progressive lenses, you may need to lower the screen and tilt it back so that you can see your screen through the correct portion of your lens.
- Place the screen directly in front of you to avoid having to twist your neck.
For more information, check out the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s Ergonomic Fact Sheets.
Finding a Healthy Work-Life Balance at Home
Managing Screen Time
Staring at a screen for hours at a time, whether it be a computer or a handheld device, you might be exposing yourself to blue light. Prolonged exposure, especially in the evening, can have adverse effects on your sleep cycle. To avoid this, activate the nightlight mode on your device or download an app with a blue-light blocker.
Take a Break and Stretch
It’s important to take breaks and stretch regularly throughout the day. Here are some tips on how to make the most of your telework time:
- Take a 5-10 minute break for every hour spent at a workstation.
- Change up your routine by doing a task that doesn’t involve a keyboard; stand up, change your body position or move around.
- Look away from the screen occasionally and focus your eyes on an object far away.
- Take regular rest breaks to ease muscle aches, eye strain, and stress.
- Relax your muscles, stretch, and change position.
Set Regular Working Hours
It’s easy to lose track of time when working from home. Some people work longer hours than in an office, while others find it difficult to stay focused from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for a variety of reasons.
- Try to set office hours so that work doesn’t take over your entire day.
- Try to avoid multi-tasking; stay focused and in ‘work mode’ during your office hours.
- Stick to the break times you set.
Tidy up Your Workspace at the End of the Day
- Turn off your computer.
- Do a quick clean-up of your space.
- And most importantly, stop working.
This is important and will help you to switch from work mode to home mode, even if there are only a few steps from your table to the sofa.
For more information, check out:
- Mental Health Tips for Working from Home
- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety’s Ergonomics Fact Sheets
- Video: Setting up a Temporary Laptop Workstation
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