Community Savings Credit Union has no doubt about its social purpose. “We exist to unite working people to build a just world,” says Kirsten I’Anson, VP people and culture with the Surrey-based financial institution, which has longstanding ties to the labour movement.
That mission helps guide how Community Savings treats its 75 staff, I’Anson explains. “We want people to feel proud about working here and connected to working here, and we want them to feel happy working here as well.” I’Anson says president and CEO Mike Schilling set a challenge for her after she joined the credit union in 2019: “In 100 years’ time, what will employers be doing to look after their teams?”
With that question in mind, she led the creation of a comprehensive wellness package, with an emphasis on psychological safety. I’Anson started by interviewing team members about stress and wellness, and how they were coping during pandemic. “We found that people were very open and willing to talk.”
After sharing those interviews on Community Savings University, the company’s learning platform, I’Anson launched The Balance Series, an employee mental health program delivered by a registered clinical counsellor. So far, sessions have covered topics such as
time management to reduce stress and how to access help for yourself and others.
Community Savings also recently created “How Do You Really Feel?” This internal video campaign shows employees at all levels saying they’re “fine”—along with a scrolling list of their real thoughts and concerns. “What we’re trying to do is break down the stigma of even talking about mental health,” I’Anson says. “We want it to be something that’s talked about a lot.”
Among the credit union’s other wellness benefits: resilience training with a personal leadership coach and culture expert; a health package that includes up to $2,000 a year in counselling or therapy, as well as unlimited registered massage therapy; and weekly movement and mindfulness sessions, plus yoga and high-intensity interval training classes, all delivered virtually.
Community Savings does advocacy work, too. For example, the credit union recently teamed up with John Ogrodniczuk, a professor of psychotherapy with the UBC department of psychiatry, to research the impact of the workplace on men’s mental health. A report based on the study, in which unions representing some 20,000 workers who identify as male were asked to participate, will appear this spring.
“We want other unions and workplaces to be involved and be aware of this research,” I’Anson says. “What can we do as employers to help support people better?”
ICBA. Chris Gardner heads ICBA, which recently launched a 12-month workplace wellness program for its member businesses and their employees
When Chris Gardner was five, his father, who experienced mental health challenges, took his own life. Gardner, now president of the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA), says the impact spans generations. “There’s no grandfather, there’s no holidays with the family, there’s no waking up on Christmas Day and opening presents with your father.”
That tragedy gives Gardner a personal connection to the new ICBA Wellness program. His group, which represents 3,300 construction companies, took action after reviewing its health plans for 120,000 workers. Across every plan, the top three drugs prescribed are for depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.
The suicide rate for construction workers is five times the national average, Gardner notes. Also, more than half of employed British Columbians who have died of opioid overdoses in recent years worked in the industry.
So ICBA consulted with contractors, workers and wellness experts to create its yearlong program, which is free to members and their staff. “The focus is to normalize the conversation around mental health and make it easier for people to put up their hand and say, I’m struggling,” Gardner explains.
ICBA Wellness had enrolled 3,000 workers as of February. Besides 12 online modules, it includes posters and toolbox talks–simple messages for crews at the start of their shift. “It’s all about communicating in a way that’s going to resonate with construction professionals,” Gardner says.