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Managing 'cognitive hygiene' can help employee mental health, improve business performance

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Corporate / Mental Health / Canada

Managing 'cognitive hygiene' can help employee mental health, improve business performance

Morneau Shepell's Dr. Bill Howatt explores in new whitepaper how managing coping skills and maturing resiliency can improve and maintain total health

TORONTO, Aug. 22, 2017 /CNW/ - Among employees who are attending work while experiencing a form of negative stress (i.e., distress), many are struggling to cope and as a result, it is having a negative impact on their overall mental health. Now, more than ever, organizations are seeing increasing risk levels of individuals with mental or physical health issues and/or illnesses in the workplace. A new whitepaper released today by Morneau Shepell, found that coping skills and levels of resilience were significant in predicting health outcomes and employees' engagement levels.

Headshot of Dr. Bill Howatt(CNW Group/Morneau Shepell Inc.)

Why supporting employees to develop their coping skills and resiliency is good business, by Dr. Bill Howatt, Chief Research and Development Officer for Workforce Productivity at Morneau Shepell, is centred around the concept of "cognitive hygiene": the ability to effectively manage negative thinking, maintain cognitive abilities to solve problems and make good decisions without thinking negative thoughts that influence mental health.

Breaking down tools for successful cognitive hygiene

Morneau Shepell's Total Health Index (THI) – a research tool assisting employees with finding their coping skills baseline, recommendations and actions – found that in a typical organization, close to 30 per cent of the population can benefit from developing coping skills. In this whitepaper, Dr. Howatt separates successful cognitive hygiene into two key elements: developmental coping skills and sustainable daily actions.

Dr. Howatt explains that developmental coping skills provide an individual with insight on how they think, training them to better solve problems and make good decisions. These skills range from understanding emotional intelligence to psychological hardiness and teaching the mind to deal with life's events. Sustainability coping skills – those that facilitate and support positive mental health – range from practicing mindfulness to learning effective mood management.

"To put it in everyday terms, practicing effective cognitive hygiene follows the same key elements of a healthy oral hygiene regime," said Dr. Howatt. "The success of both is dependent on daily practices and actions. Oral hygiene starts with the developmental skills of learning how to brush and floss teeth correctly and the sustainability skills of brushing after each meal and flossing each day. Comparatively, cognitive hygiene requires developmental coping skills such as insight into emotions, followed by sustainability coping skills, which involve the daily actions one takes to avoid negative, unwanted thoughts."

Investing in coping skills to improve business performance

According to the whitepaper, practicing cognitive hygiene is especially important in the workplace, where stressors come in many forms and if left untreated, can result in mental health issues that ultimately affect wellbeing and performance.

If managed effectively, Dr. Howatt asserts that investing in cognitive hygiene has the ability to improve an organization's bottom line by reducing turnover, improving productivity and reducing the potential for employee conflict, to name a few. "Managing coping skills and resilience development are not static – they continually need to be practiced to effectively take on the stressors of everyday life," said Dr. Howatt.

Dr. Bill Howatt's full biography can be found here. The full whitepaper, Why supporting employees to develop their coping skills and resiliency is good business, can be downloaded in full here.

About Morneau Shepell
Morneau Shepell is the only human resources consulting and technology company that takes an integrated approach to employee assistance, health, benefits and retirement needs. The Company is the leading provider of employee and family assistance programs, the largest administrator of retirement and benefits plans and the largest provider of integrated absence management solutions in Canada. As a leader in strategic HR consulting and innovative pension design, the Company helps clients solve complex workforce problems and provides integrated productivity, health and retirement solutions.  Established in 1966, Morneau Shepell serves approximately 20,000 clients, ranging from small businesses to some of the largest corporations and associations.  With more than 4,000 employees in offices across North America, Morneau Shepell provides services to organizations across Canada, in the United States and around the globe. Morneau Shepell is a publicly-traded company on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: MSI). For more information, visit

SOURCE Morneau Shepell Inc.

For further information: Heather MacDonald, Morneau Shepell, 416.390.2625,