Paula Allen on Improving Workplace Mental Health Through Collaboration

Paula Allen on Improving Workplace Mental Health Through Collaboration

CanadianSME Small Business Magazine had the privilege to engage with Paula Allen, the Global Leader of Research & Client Insights at TELUS Health, in an insightful conversation about her professional journey and role. Paula discussed the significant findings from the TELUS Mental Health Index, highlighting the correlation between collaboration and improved mental health scores among workers. She further elaborated on the impact of team conflict on mental health, an issue reported by over a quarter of managers last year. In light of the consistent Mental Health Index score, which indicates ongoing mental strain among workers, Paula shared her perspective on necessary steps to mitigate this situation. She also offered advice on ensuring the mental well-being of independent workers and emphasized the importance of fostering a positive collaboration environment within organizations to bolster mental health.

Paula Allen is the Global Leader, Research & Client Insights at TELUS Health. Paula is a well-recognized expert in all areas of workplace mental health.

Building on a clinical background, she has more than 20 years of experience relating to workplace research, product development and operational leadership. 

Paula is also a sought-after speaker by media, organizations, and conferences for her knowledge and expertise in current issues and the future direction of health, well-being, productivity, and related risk management. 

Paula is a Director on several Boards given her expertise in health and health innovation.

When did you start your professional career? And what are your responsibilities as the Global Leader, Research and Client Insights, and Vice-President at TELUS Health?

Building on a clinical background, I have more than 20 years of experience related to workplace research, product development, consulting and operational leadership. I started my corporate career in Disability Management, which later led to various other roles, all of which included research. In every role I’ve had, two things have been constant: the need for evidence-based analysis and an unrelenting focus on people-centered solutions.  

In my current VP role as the Global Leader, Research and Client Insights at TELUS Health, I lead a team of data scientists and researchers that explore data science as it relates to our total health business. Our objective is to: 

Provide data-driven insights to the global market through our TELUS Mental Health Index report at conferences and in publications.

Provide valuable analytics to our clients to help them make informed decisions about their organizational needs and workplace health strategies.

Provide relevant analytics to TELUS Health to improve its evidence-based practices, client relationships and product development processes. 

Paula Allen on Improving Workplace Mental Health Through Collaboration

The TELUS Mental Health Index has revealed that workers who collaborate with others have better mental health scores. Could you further explain why you think collaboration positively impacts mental health?

Collaboration brings people together through a shared experience. Good, healthy interactions make workers feel valued, and enhance their sense of purpose and belonging – all of which are critical to maintaining positive mental health and wellbeing. 

Despite the many benefits of remote and hybrid work, the risk of social isolation is significant. However, if and when employers intentionally create opportunities for collaboration, the risk of isolation decreases. Manager training, team building activities and group brainstorming sessions are ways in which employers can cultivate collaboration and positively impact the mental health and wellbeing of their workforce. 

With over a quarter of managers reporting team conflict in the past year, what role do you believe this conflict plays in the mental health of workers? 

Conflict within a team is something that should always be addressed sooner rather than later. In a previous TELUS Health report, we found that 46 per cent of workers in Canada are more sensitive to stress now than before the pandemic. This materializes in more cynicism, anger and conflict in addition to lower wellbeing. 

Our data shows that managers who encounter team conflict experience lower mental health scores compared to managers who don’t, with an 11-point difference. Our data also revealed that 12 per cent of managers have to deal with instances of harassment and bullying within their teams, a responsibility that takes a tremendous mental toll on many people.  

The overall Mental Health Index score in Canada has plateaued at 64.6 for two consecutive months, while workers continue to experience mental strain. What are your thoughts on these findings, and what steps should be taken to improve this situation?

The TELUS Mental Health Index score has been concerning for quite some time. It appears that our collective mental health has fallen to a level much lower than it was in 2019, prior to the pandemic. There’s no denying that the mental strain we experienced over the pandemic has had a lasting impact. 

Today, 33 per cent of workers in Canada have a high mental health risk, with anxiety and isolation being at its worst level for 13 consecutive months. These numbers help drive awareness to the very real crisis unfolding in workplaces across the country, while also highlighting to employers the real need to offer resources so that their workers can get to better health.  

Implementing proactive measures such as comprehensive workplace mental health programs, work-life balance offerings and opportunities to collaborate will help to rebuild healthy workplaces and give employers an advantage in the marketplace. 

TELUS Health programs like Total Mental Health and Virtual Care are great examples of employer-provided solutions that not only help improve wellbeing but also recruitment and retention. With 77 per cent of employees willing to consider changing jobs for better wellbeing support, it’s imperative for organizations not to delay in offering more personalized support that fits the unique needs of their workforce. 

A significant number of workers don’t need to collaborate in their roles, which appears to have a negative impact on mental health scores. How can organizations ensure the mental wellbeing of workers who work more independently?

Even in roles where collaboration is not a primary requirement, organizations can foster wellbeing. Taking advantage of moments that allow for collaboration, like training and brainstorming sessions, are effective but they are not always sufficient in improving mental wellbeing among workers. Robust employee assistance programs (EAPs) and mental health services are vital. Implementing support such as confidential counseling, therapy sessions or a mental health helpline demonstrates a firm’s commitment to the employee in supporting their total wellbeing. 

Investing in employee mental health, especially for those who aren’t in collaborative roles, sends a powerful message throughout the organization, and arguably to the organization’s industry, that wellbeing is valued and supported regardless of job title. The key is regular communication and promotion of these employer-provided services to the employee base to ensure there is broad  awareness of these supports and to help normalize use. 

Paula Allen on Improving Workplace Mental Health Through Collaboration

By prioritizing employee mental wellbeing and understanding the unique needs of a workforce, organizations can enhance overall productivity, reduce absenteeism, and cultivate a healthier and more engaged workforce. It is a strategic investment that leads to happier, more resilient employees who contribute significantly more to the success of the organization.

With almost 73% of workers describing positive experiences when collaborating, there’s a clear correlation between collaboration and mental health scores. How can organizations foster this positive collaboration among their teams?

The starting point is always – and out of necessity – a safe and inclusive culture, where people feel accepted and respected. With that as a foundation, connection and social support can flourish. 

Organizations can also establish clear goals and expectations for collaboration, ensuring that it is integrated into the workflow and measured. Additionally, regular feedback and recognition for collaborative achievements can motivate employees to engage in ways they may not have considered before. Providing opportunities for team-building activities, both within and outside of work settings, can further strengthen relationships and foster a sense of connection. Ultimately, by nurturing a culture of trust and support, organizations can grow faster and stronger. 

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