There is an escalating dialogue around mental health in contemporary society. In workplaces across the globe, mental health issues have crawled out from under the carpet and into the spotlight, demanding action from both employers and human resources (HR) professionals. A recent study brings to light the depth of the issue within Canada, revealing that one in three Canadian workers have taken time off work due to mental health issues in the past five years.
The Significance of Mental Health in the Workplace
Workplaces, at their best, are hubs of productivity, innovation, and personal growth. They provide a sense of purpose and satisfaction that contributes to overall wellbeing. However, the modern work environment can also be a source of stress, anxiety, and burnout, contributing to mental health issues. The need for sound mental health is no less important than physical health, as it influences our thoughts, behaviors, and interactions with others.
The gravity of mental health issues in the workplace cannot be overstated. A mentally unhealthy workplace doesn’t just affect the individual’s wellbeing, but also impacts team morale, productivity, and ultimately, the organization’s bottom line. More than ever, HR professionals are being called to understand and address these issues effectively.
An In-Depth Look at the Research
The recent report commissioned by the Future Skills Centre provides a revealing snapshot of mental health in the Canadian workforce. The study found that 38% of Canadian workers had taken time off work in the last five years due to mental health issues. These include stress, anxiety, depression, and burnout.
HR Managers have a strong role to play in mitigating the issue:
These absences weren’t just occasional days off, either. Almost half of these workers were off work for one month or more, and on average, Canadian workers are absent from work due to mental health for 12 days annually. It’s estimated that roughly 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to poor mental health each week. This paints a staggering picture of the widespread prevalence of mental health issues and its impact on the Canadian workforce.
The Economic Consequences of Poor Mental Health in the Workforce
This rise in mental health-related absenteeism carries with it profound economic implications. The Canadian economy reportedly loses $50 billion annually due to absenteeism and disability, a figure which amplifies the severity of the issue. In addition, lost productivity costs employers an estimated $17 billion, underscoring the financial toll poor mental health takes on businesses directly.
The overall cost to Canadian organizations due to mental health emergencies is calculated to be a staggering $200 billion per year. This financial burden not only affects companies’ bottom lines, but also taxes national resources, posing challenges for the larger economic landscape.
The adverse effects are even more pronounced for younger workers. The research reveals that 40% of workers aged 18 to 24 are at a well-being “breaking point,” suggesting that this demographic may be more susceptible to mental health issues. The future of the workforce is at risk if these issues aren’t addressed proactively, urging organizations to tailor their mental health strategies to address the unique needs of this generation.
Unraveling the Key Stressors
The research goes a step further to identify the leading stressors affecting workers’ mental health. Financial concerns surfaced as the predominant stressor, with 62% of survey respondents pointing to finances as a key factor impacting their mental health. Close to half (48%) of the respondents stated that their earnings were not keeping pace with the cost of living, which added to their stress. A third (30%) worried that their retirement savings were insufficient, indicating a looming financial anxiety even after their working years.
Surprisingly, the workplace itself emerged as a significant factor contributing to mental health issues. Half of the respondents reported that their work negatively impacted their mental health, and 35% admitted to experiencing burnout. Among those who took time off for mental health in the past five years, a whopping 80% pointed to their job demands and work environment as primary causes. These findings underline the need for workplaces to not only provide supportive environments for employees but also rethink job design, workload, and management practices.
The Crucial Role of HR and Employers
These alarming statistics underscore the pivotal role that employers and HR professionals play in supporting the mental health and overall wellbeing of their employees. It is evident that the nature of work and the workplace culture can significantly contribute to mental health issues. As gatekeepers of the work environment, HR professionals and leaders are uniquely positioned to foster a supportive, empathetic culture that prioritizes employee wellbeing.
The need for action is even more critical given the sector-specific differences in stress levels. According to the study, healthcare and social assistance employees face the highest levels of job-related stress. This sector-specific insight indicates that some industries might need to take more targeted actions to reduce work-related stressors and improve the mental health support provided to their employees.
However, the research revealed that there is a considerable gap between the magnitude of the issue and the actions taken by employers. Very few employers have invested in initiatives to evaluate and address the impact of the workplace on mental health. This lack of action suggests a pressing need for organizations to ramp up their efforts to support employee mental health actively.
Mental Health Benefits Design: A Missed Opportunity?
The report also indicates that the design of employers’ mental health benefits is suboptimal. Improving mental health was stated as a wellness goal by 58% of survey respondents, yet less than a quarter are able to use care models that are covered by benefits such as counselling (21%) and prescribed medications (25%). Interestingly, almost half (46%) engage in mindfulness therapies, which typically are not covered by benefits.
These findings suggest that existing benefit programs may not be adequately addressing the needs of employees when it comes to mental health support. There seems to be a discrepancy between what employees need or prefer, like mindfulness therapies, and what is covered under their health benefits. This suggests an opportunity for employers to reassess and revamp their benefits design to ensure it aligns better with the mental health needs and preferences of their employees.
The Road Ahead: Developing Comprehensive, Inclusive Benefit Programs
The findings of this report point to a clear need for more comprehensive, flexible, and inclusive benefit programs. It is not enough for organizations to merely provide mental health benefits. These benefits need to be well-aligned with the actual needs of the employees, providing access to a variety of care options that employees find useful. For instance, expanding coverage to include mindfulness therapies and increasing limits for mental health care could be beneficial steps forward. The end goal should be to develop a benefits program that supports employees in maintaining their mental health proactively, rather than just addressing issues as they arise.
 – HR Reporter Report>>