Work. We spend around 60 per cent of our weekly waking hours in the workplace, and around half of our lives working. Work can be a blessing or a curse. It can provide meaning, connection, and feelings of empowerment and success as we tackle daily tasks and contribute to the short and long-term goals and visions of the organizations we work for. At the same time, the workplace can be a stressful environment with negative impacts on our mental health and well-being.
With the stress of making ends meet, and the increasing demands we face as the nature of work changes and adapts, it’s no wonder that many people report workplace stress as one of the biggest factors impacting their mental health.
If you’re an employer, supporting the mental health of your staff is rapidly becoming a top priority. Ensuring the mental well-being of your staff can have positive impacts on your employee’s productivity, and on your company’s success and growth.
According to a joint study between the Mental Health Commission of Canada and Morneau Shepell, who published a report titled, Understanding Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Their Impacts in the Workplace,
● 70 per cent of employees in Canada are concerned about the impact of their workplace on their psychological health
● 78 per cent of respondents missed work due to mental health reasons
● One in five Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness each year
● Workplace stress is reported as the primary cause of mental health problems or illness
● Depression and anxiety are the top two mental health issues reported
● 71 per cent of respondents worked in organizations with Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAP), but only 20 per cent of them used it
Impacts on Business
Mental health has a big impact on business. Employees who are facing mental health challenges often have higher rates of absenteeism (sometimes extended absenteeism) and turnover, and lowered productivity and employee morale.
But on top of that, 30 to 40 per cent of disability claims in Canada are due to mental health issues, with the total cost of those claims exceeding $50 billion annually. Mental health disability claims are difficult to adjudicate and can be a challenge to manage. These claims also tend to have a longer duration than claims due to an injury.
The sheer number and duration of mental health disability claims made across Canada is impacting disability benefits rates overall and has more direct cost impacts in workplaces with active claims.
In other words, the incentives for businesses to prevent mental health issues, and support healthy workplace cultures has never been greater.
Social Stigma: To Disclose or Not to Disclose
In recent years, various organizations have been working hard to bring more awareness to mental health issues and just how many of us are impacted by such challenges. However, mental health issues continue to be surrounded by stigma in our society. In the workplace, that stigma often makes employees hesitate to disclose their status and seek support from their employers. While not everyone may feel comfortable disclosing, employees should be aware that they do not have to reveal a diagnosis to ask for support. Legally, they can request support from their employer for general health concerns; however, they may need a doctor’s note outlining more specific requirements or requests.
As with any disability, if an employee has disclosed a mental health issue, or a general health challenge that requires workplace support, there is a legal obligation for employers to make accommodations that will allow the employee to keep working.
However, obligation shouldn’t be the only motivator—there’s a clear economic case for finding strategies to support your staff. Solutions are often low cost, easy to implement, and can prevent more costly consequences of an extended work absence or a disability claim. Employers should work with staff to find creative solutions and be willing to adapt schedules, workloads, or approaches to ensure struggling staff can perform their jobs with success.
How Can Employers Help
Employers may not be able to avert every case of workplace stress, but they have incredible power to create the positive working conditions that can reduce mental health risks for their staff.
According to the World Health Organization, the biggest risks to mental health in the workplace include things that employers can change. Ensuring adequate health and safety policies, encouraging good communication and management practices, offering flexible work hours, setting policies around workplace bullying, and creating a culture of support that empowers employees as active participants in decision-making will all support your staff’s mental health and well-being. Employers should also ensure that employee tasks match their skillsets, and that their workloads are manageable and clear so that they can experience success in their day-to-day work.
Ensuring your company has a group benefits plan is also key. It demonstrates that your employees’ health is important, and ensures you have professional resources available for your staff if they do face a problem. Including an Employee Assistance Program in the benefits plan is a great place to start. They offer 24/7 support by trained professionals and can help in a crisis, or provide support for ongoing issues. They also offer referrals to other trained health professionals who can give employees the support they need.
Because many staff fail to make use of these resources, it’s also important to educate staff on their benefits, and regularly remind them that these resources are available, and confidential. Creating a culture where talking about mental wellness is normal, and safe will also help encourage staff to access the support available to them.
Employers can also make ample use of mental health information and resources provided by their benefits provider and look to other national and local organizations for guidance on creating a workplace culture that reduces the stigma around mental health issues and creates a safe space for employees to raise issues and ask for help.
Workplace mental health is a critical and potentially very costly issue, but it’s one with many solutions. As staff, managers, employers, and as a society, there’s a lot we can all do to remove stigma, recognize risk factors, and work to prevent and support one another for better mental health.
Mental health in the workplace, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/mental_health/in_the_workplace/en/
Understanding mental health, mental illness, and their impacts in the workplace, Morneau Shepell: https://www.morneaushepell.com/permafiles/91248/mental-health-white-paper-2018.pdf
Why mental health in the workplace is often misunderstood and stigmatized, CBC News, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/hard-at-work-mental-health-1.4067499
Mental Health Issues – Facts and Figures, Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, https://www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/mental-health-issues-facts-and-figures
Canadian employees report workplace stress as primary cause of mental health concerns, Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC): https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/news-article/13522/canadian-employees-report-workplace-stress-primary-cause-mental-health-concerns
Mental Illness in the Workplace, Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA): https://cmha.ca/resources/mental-illness-in-the-workplace