Meet EllisDon’s first ever mental health specialist

How Nadina Holca is laying the foundation of a 'free-flowing structure'

Meet EllisDon’s first ever mental health specialist

In the vast landscape of construction, EllisDon is trying to stand tall as a leader in employee mental health. At the helm of this initiative is Nadina Holca, the company's first ever mental health specialist.

"I've always been drawn to building programs and strategies using data for health promotion," she reflects. With an academic foundation in psychology and a master's degree in public health, her expertise transcends traditional counseling roles.

Joining EllisDon eight months ago, Holca embarked on a pioneering mission: to foster a culture of psychological health and safety.

"My role from a high-level perspective is just building a mental health strategy… the same way you would build an occupational health and safety program at a company… or even like a human resources program at a company."

EllisDon employs more than 5,000 people, and Holca is responsible for the mental health of all of them. Despite being in the foundational phases, Holca's approach to building the program is meticulous. She is working on understanding every facet of the company, meeting stakeholders, and gathering data.

 “I'm one person and the company's huge…I have to first understand each area and meet everybody and understand how they operate, what their challenges are,” says Holca. While it may be a tall order, she has resources to lean on.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada created The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace in 2013. Holca is leveraging that to craft programs and policies to address the needs of EllisDon employees.

"We evaluate everything—from onboarding processes to leadership support—to ensure a supportive environment," explains Holca.

In the high-risk world of construction, physical safety hazards often overshadow psychological ones. However, Holca stresses the interconnectedness of physical and mental wellbeing. Construction workers must be vigilant to avoid incidents or injuries and the physical demands of the job can take a toll on mental wellbeing.

“On top of just like being a human and feeling like tired and stressed sometimes, which is just a normal thing….I think that all just weighs on people in the construction industry a little bit more," suggests Holca.

Despite the challenges, Holca remains undeterred, envisioning her role as a catalyst for change not only within EllisDon but across the industry. “The goal is just to have it be a free-flowing structure that operates even without my guidance,” explains Holca, as she describes her long-term vision for the mental health program.

Her pioneering efforts have already sparked interest among other companies in the construction sector, signaling a growing recognition of the importance of mental health in heavy industries. Collaborations with organizations like Modern Niagara and involvement in groups like the Canadian Construction Safety Alliance underscore the industry-wide impact of her work.

“I think what will start happening is that companies that don't have a mental health specialist… will start to look in that direction,” asserts Holca.

As she continues to chart new territory in the realm of mental health within the workplace, Holca’s role as EllisDon's first mental health specialist is a symbol of progress, paving the way for a healthier, more supportive environment for employees industry wide.