Building Workplace Resiliency – Building organizational resiliency with mental health supports

During the COVID-19 pandemic, some Canadian bio-economy companies fared better than others despite facing similar challenges. What’s behind those different outcomes? In part, varying levels of organizational resiliency. To learn more, BioTalent Canada explored organizational resiliency, its contributing factors and how companies can cultivate it.

Based on that work, this resource looks at how mental health supports can help bio-economy companies build and sustain organizational resiliency.

What is organizational resiliency?

Organizational resiliency refers to the capability of an organization to anticipate, absorb, react and adapt to internal and external disruptions and associated impacts. Fundamentally, it’s about how organizations overcome adversity to ensure sustainability.

This definition was validated in interviews with bio-economy employers, whose comments suggested three major characteristics shared by resilient organizations:

  • They are agile, flexible and adaptable with their operations and internal processes.
  • Their employees are engaged with leadership both formally and informally.

They have empowered cultures stemming from engaged employees who feel they are listened to and their needs considered during times of change.

How do individual mental health and wellbeing affect organizational resiliency?

The health and wellbeing of the people within an organization play a significant role, but there’s more to building organizational resiliency than just assembling a group of highly resilient individuals to work together. Even the most resilient people can experience periods of work-related burn-out and mental health challenges if they don’t get the workplace supports they need.

That means employers can enhance organizational resiliency by ensuring their workplaces are supportive of overall mental health and wellbeing so everyone can contribute optimally to the organization. What that looks like will be different for every organization, particularly as workplaces become increasingly diverse and need to account for a wider range of individual needs. Incorporating the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility (IDEA) into an organization will help develop the right supports for each organization and its people.

How did the pandemic impact mental health and wellbeing in the bio-economy?

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant negative impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of the Canadian workforce — including the bio-economy workforce. Interviews with bio-economy companies highlighted mental health challenges such as anxiety, communication issues and misunderstandings leading to interpersonal conflict, impaired capacity to concentrate and problem-solve, and depression with low energy levels. These in turn have contributed to lower levels of productivity, greater incidence of personal and health-related leave, and higher employee turnover.

Prioritizing employee concerns

One bio-manufacturing company wanted to ensure its approximately 170 employees felt safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company focused on monitoring concerns and anxiety regarding the health and safety of the work environment so it could be alerted quickly to any issues that needed to be addressed. To do that, the company implemented a bi-weekly survey of all employees, held periodic town hall meetings with all employees and set up a COVID Task Force. The Task Force was responsible for keeping staff informed with regular COVID-19 updates outlining protocols, changes in processes and available support. The committee also maintained a dedicated email account where any employee could send questions or concerns to be addressed by the Task Force.

How did employers support employees’ mental health and wellbeing during the pandemic?

During interviews, employers noted several supports that they established and/or adapted during the pandemic to help their employees with mental health and wellbeing:

  • Specialized counselling services offered through health plans
  • Weekly “check-ins” with employees either in small groups or individually to discuss personal situations, challenges and support needs
  • Additional leave for family or personal issues
  • Small gifts or tokens of appreciation (e.g., meal kits, coupons, gift certificates)
  • Additional supports for employees and their families who had to quarantine (e.g., shopping services, drop-offs)
  • Establishment of “COVID committees” to address specific concerns, develop protocols and handle communications
  • Transparent, clear, ongoing communications with employees regarding company context, changes and challenges
  • Involvement of leadership in “town halls” or similar group Q&A sessions
  • Flexibility in hours and workplace adaptations to accommodate family and caregiver requirements

Nine out of ten bio-economy employers surveyed said tools and resources focused on mental health support would be useful in helping them build organizational resiliency. This underscores bio-economy employers’ recognition of the importance of providing workplaces that support mental health and wellbeing.

Supporting employee wellbeing with flexible work locations

One bio-health R&D company’s 40-person team included a significant proportion of recent immigrants, many with family members in their home countries. When the pandemic started, it made international travel difficult and restricted these employees’ ability to connect with their families. In response, the company made major adjustments to its place of work policies, helping employees relocate back to their home countries to reunite with their families and support systems. These accommodations and flexibility helped the company make it through the pandemic with no employee turnover.

How can bio-economy employers support employee mental health and wellbeing to enhance their organizational resiliency?

There are various resources available to bio-economy employers to help them build and maintain workplaces that support employee mental health and wellbeing.

Some BioTalent Canada resources include:

Learn from others

Incorporating IDEA principles into your organization’s operations and culture is also a critical element of building resiliency. Check out these stories for insight into how other organizations have incorporated IDEA principles into their business — and the benefits they’ve seen as a result.

Methods and sources

BioTalent Canada recently conducted research on organizational resiliency in the Canadian bio-economy in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the project, BioTalent Canada is producing a series of resources, including brief introductions to some of the key topics related to organizational resiliency.

This resource on how supporting employee mental health can help build and sustain organizational resiliency in the bio-economy is based on findings from:

  • A survey of 344 employers in the Canadian bio-economy
  • In-depth qualitative interviews with 33 employers
  • A systematic environmental scan of literature and available training, tools and measures related to organizational resiliency