Today is a good time to move from “let’s talk” to “let’s do peer support”. In a recent chat, Stéphane Grenier, of Mental Health Innovation Consulting (MHIC), shared his lessons and insights about the power and value of peer support in the workplace.
Peer supporters are not just friends or therapists.
Peer supporters help their peers face challenges head on by sharing experiences to empower them to find their own answers. Boundaries are important at work. For example, if a co-worker needs money, a friend might give it out of obligation and friendship. A therapist definitely wouldn’t because of professional rules. Peer supporters would maintain boundaries to not give money; however, they would be there with the person, to share experiences and to help the co-worker develop options that will ensure their needs are met.
Peer support builds upon a human connection…
Employees who have struggled in the past with mental health problems want to participate in MHI’s programs because of the chance to help co-workers: “I want to help someone else.” It feels good. It also brings a sense of purpose to the struggles they went through. Connection to another human being is powerful. Confidentiality and trust are based on this shared humanity:
When in training sessions, MHI favours a rather unique way of addressing confidentiality to complement more process based approaches. Stand-up and look around the room. Look each other in the eye and make a moral commitment to each other that you will abide by the bounds of confidentiality. You are all human beings.
Employers need to understand this and focus on employee needs for support at work and during work. Lives don’t end at the office door.
Managers and coworkers shouldn’t have to diagnose or measure symptoms. MHI training for peer support and workshops for managers give tools to avoid the clinical narrative and enable a more authentic discussion to take place “How are you? How can I help?”
How do companies react to Peer Support?
A “hard-sell” for peer support won’t work because a company has to have the right culture and policy framework. MHI will not work with reluctant companies because “If you are not prepared to do the work up front and develop your program with solid policies you are putting your peer supporters in harm’s way – you don’t want them sitting in bed at night wondering what they could have or should have done better”.
MHI sets the conditions for success (training, culture) so that the peer support is successful. MHI offers 4-5 day peer support training programs that include crisis management. Programs emphasize the human rather than liability concerns that hold a lot of companies back.
Peer support can get off track
If a company doesn’t understand or agree with the principles of peer support, employees can be harmed and programs will languish. HR reporting policies need to adapt to a human-trust based program required for peer support. Standards and rules are important to protect supporters.
Peer support needs to be about employees. Helping employees helps the entire company. If the peer support culture focuses on employees, then peer supporters will commit and the company will provide time and resources so the peer supporters can provide the right support when it is needed. Even companies “committed” to mental health have trouble “reconciling” this or accepting that employees can balance demands of work and support.
A Blueprint for Peer Support that Business can understand
The Mental Health Commission of Canada and a team led by Grenier listened to and surveyed hundreds of peer support organizations and leaders across the country to understand existing programs and to create a blueprint for peer support. The bottom up and reverse-engineered approach protected the nuances and magic ingredients of peer support.
“If you are building in a windy area, look at other buildings in the area to see how they were built”.
The Peer Support Accreditation and Certification (Canada) identified a knowledge base, competencies, experience, and code of conduct that together constitute the Standards of Practice for peer support.
The standard of practice’s goal is to present peer support to government, companies, clinicians, funders, as evidence based, and in a coherent manner using words that the organization will understand. In other words, the Standards help to translate peer support to people who haven’t tried it yet.
Final impression – I was blown away by the way Grenier combined the organic roots of peer support with business principles. I am more optimistic than ever for you and me as humans to support each other and to change the most difficult parts of our lives.
I will be posting more about his work with the Peer Support Accreditation and Certification (Canada) soon.
Stéphane Grenier is a Veteran of the Canadian Military who retired as a Lieutenant Colonel following 29 years of service and numerous overseas missions such as in Cambodia, Haiti, Lebanon, and Kuwait. Most notably, he spent 10 months in Rwanda in 1994/95 and six months in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2007.
Faced with undiagnosed PTSD upon return from Rwanda, he took a personal interest in the way the Canadian Forces was dealing with mental health issues; a mission he has now decided to broaden to the entire Canadian workforce through his work in developing non clinical mental health interventions as a complement to traditional clinical care. In 2010 he was seconded to the Mental Health Commission of Canada and since his retirement from the military in 2012, Grenier has founded a charity and created Mental Health Innovations, a social enterprise dedicated to re humanizing workplaces in Canada.
Throughout his career, Grenier has been recognized for his transformational leadership style, commended for his collaborative efforts and outstanding leadership, specifically during the post war humanitarian disasters in Rwanda, and was awarded a Meritorious Service Cross by the Governor General of Canada for his work in the field of mental health and awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws by the University of Guelph.