Although awareness is growing of the importance of employee mental health and the value of inclusive work practices, less is known about how to support employees with mental illness (MI). We aimed to explore organizational strategies and work practices that promote retention and support of employees living with MI in relation to past theory-driven research by building and extending current theory.
We adopted a qualitative case-study approach focussed on organizations that have taken steps towards promoting workplace inclusion for employees with MI. Five diverse Canadian organizations were recruited based on their efforts to build psychologically safe and healthy workplaces, and actively support employees with MI. Data collection in each organization consisted of onsite observation and interviews with workplace stakeholders, including employees with MI, their co-workers, supervisors/managers and human resource professionals. Thirty interviews were conducted from across the five organizations. Data analysis was informed by interpretive description to identify challenges and opportunities.
Two key themes were noted in depictions of supportive workplaces: (1) relationship-focussed workplaces and (2) flexible, inclusive work practices.
These practices highlight how organizations support employees with MI. Despite our focus on organizations working towards inclusion, the stigma associated with MI and the rigidity of some workplace processes continue to limit support and retention. Our findings suggest that organizations should focus on communication processes, support mechanisms, how they reinforce flexibility, inclusion and oversight of employees with MI.