Fostering a workplace where employees’ mental health is a priority is suddenly on everyone’s radar. From younger generations who have grown up openly discussing their mental health to older employees who are reaching out for supports, its impact on wellbeing—and productivity—is being taken seriously.
That’s because half a million Canadians miss work every week due to mental illness – affecting their personal and work lives. This translates into an annual $51 billion economic impact, of which lost productivity accounts for $6.3 billion, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Mental health indicators are in decline lately, a function of the recent economic downturn and three years of a global pandemic. New findings from Lifeworks’ Mental Health Index suggest that Canadians’ mental health deteriorated in October 2022, with a score of 64.9 – up from 63 in April 2020 (an optimal score is between 80 and 100). In October, 32 per cent of respondents were at high risk of a mental health disorder and within this high-risk group, 30 per cent of employees had already been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. Forty-five per cent had a moderate health risk and 24 per cent had a low mental health risk.
The report finds that many employees are feeling isolated, anxious and unproductive—and their work is suffering. Many are checked out and underperforming in their roles, leading to high rates of presenteeism and absenteeism. According to Statistics Canada, the number of work absences have been increasing since 2016.
Employees in the arts, entertainment and recreation fields have the lowest mental health scores, while managers and professionals have the highest scores. And in terms of location, all provinces apart from Manitoba and Ontario have seen declines in mental health.
The good news is that employers across the country have been getting the message. They have been investing in their mental health offerings; thirty-nine per cent of organizations now have a mental health strategy in place, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
Many are recognizing that offering services that maintain the health and wellbeing of their workforces can go a long way in keeping employees happy and their workplaces attractive to new hires. In fact, they’re adapting their work environments to ensure there are more supports and flexibility to assist their employees and prevent short-term and long-term absences due to mental health issues.
Health and wellbeing are top of mind for employees.
Staying healthy is certainly what employees strive for. Thirty-four per cent of employees report that benefits that promote health are the most important in choosing whom to work for, according to the mental health index. Flexibility is also a key concern; 28 per cent identify it as the most important factor in choosing an employer. And 18 per cent of those surveyed say that the type of work they perform is most important.
By creating a flexible environment, employers stand to get more buy-in from their employees – especially parents who are juggling family life and job responsibilities. This group is 70 per cent more likely to report that a flexible workplace would encourage them to work harder, the report finds. Managers too are 50 per cent more likely than non-managers to say that having more flexibility at work drives them to put in more effort into their jobs.
In turn, caring about work leads to better mental health scores, according to the index. It finds that 83 per cent of employees care about their work—with this group reporting high mental health scores.
Good managers create healthy workplaces.
Toxic workplaces are out: That’s the message sent in the latest mental health index.
Canadian respondents report that the manner in which their workplace is managed has a big impact on the state of their mental health. They say that managers who are autonomous, allow them to be active participants at work and who display traits of charisma, humanity and are team-oriented lead them to feel better about themselves.
This group reports higher mental health scores than employees in environments managed by individuals who do not have these traits, the index finds. Canadians who rate their manager poorly in each of the five categories lose productivity at a rate two times higher than those who view their manager in a positive light.
Mental health investments lead to better ROI.
The key for Canadian employers is to ensure that they continue to prioritize mental health in the workplace. This means ensuring that a robust mental health strategy is in place, and that it focuses on developing positive mental health outcomes and preventing mental health issues.
Employers should keep in mind that if they provide a flexible workforce with schedules that allow employees to better manage their roles and personal lives, this will result in fewer mental health issues. So will training initiatives that focus on instilling managerial values employees prioritize: autonomy, charisma, humanity, and being participative and team-oriented.
It will also create a workplace that will be seen as attractive, particularly to younger generations who have come to expect benefits programs that meet their mental health needs. And it will boost employee retention at a time when skilled employees are difficult to find.
Employers need to create a framework for addressing mental health across all parts of their organization and to review its successes and failures routinely. Doing so can help them meet their mental health targets and ensure they offer a workplace that values and champions the mental health of its most important members: its employees.
About the Lifeworks Mental Health Index: Data for this report is collected through an online survey of 3,000 people who live in Canada and are currently employed or who were employed within the prior six months. Participants are selected to be representative of the age, gender, industry, and geographic distribution in Canada. Respondents are asked to consider the prior two weeks when answering each question. Data for the current report was collected between October 4 and October 12, 2022. LifeWorks is a wholly owned subsidiary of TELUS now operating as part of TELUS Health as a result of its recent acquisition.