Addressing Workplace Wellness Critical to the Bottom LineJanuary 30, 2019
By. Michelle Eaton
Stress. Burnout. Anxiety. Depression. Mental illness affects all of us: we all have—or know of someone who has—suffered from mental illness at one point or another. And the numbers reflect this. At least 20 percent of Canadians will have a mental illness in their lifetime; more than those living with heart disease and type 2 diabetes combined.
When it comes to our economy and workplaces, the effects of mental illness are staggering.
The costs of mental illness to the Canadian economy are estimated at over $50 billion annually, with $20 billion of that stemming directly from workplace losses. By 2021, the costs to the Canadian economy are estimated to rise to $88.8 billion per year.
Mental health conditions in the workplace are also being diagnosed with greater frequency. Disability claims for mental illness are the fastest growing claim type in Canada. Each day half a million Canadians miss work because of mental health issues. On average, mental health issues cost businesses almost $1,500 per employee, per year.
The ideal workplace is a mentally healthy one in which employers and employees feel respected and safe, are productive, and have the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. We would not think twice about taking the time to recover from a broken leg or a severe bout of the flu. Yet, only 23 percent of Canadian workers would feel comfortable talking to their employer about a psychological health issue. Mental illness, like physical illness, is part of the human condition and we need to treat it as such.
Most employers are familiar with common workplace ailments such as stress and burnout. Nevertheless, instead of being recognized and managed, these problems are too often misjudged or disregarded. For most employers, it is easier to cope with an employee’s physical injury than a mental one. In too many workplaces there is both a lack of knowledge as to how to effectively manage the mental wellness of employees and a dearth of resources to help employers gain that knowledge.
Canadian workplaces suffer from a staggering gap when it comes to addressing mental wellness in the workplace. Ontario businesses understand the importance of mentally healthy workplaces; 80 percent of employers agree that their organization’s success is dependent on their employees’ health and well-being. Yet only four in ten businesses report having a formal strategy for employee mental health.
On one hand, the business community believes that it is important to support their employees’ mental wellness in the workplace. On the other, they are not always prepared to act on that belief.
Regardless of the size of the business or the sector in which it operates, people are key to meeting organizational goals – and a mentally healthy workplace is critical to preserving that valuable human capital. Ultimately, promoting a healthy and productive workforce can help businesses and communities across the province face new challenges from a position of strength.
It is time to take action on building mentally healthy workplaces and a proactive workplace wellness strategy is a great place to start. In Working Towards Mental Wellness: A toolkit for employers, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) provides resources for starting the conversation on creating healthy workplaces across Ontario.
A mentally healthy workplace features:
- Leadership that is responsive to mental health issues, including taking preventative action.
- Supportive relationships between employees and supervisors.
- An open door policy, with managers willing to hear both good and bad reports.
- Flexible work conditions (where appropriate) and good work/life balance.
- A mental wellness strategy that is not drafted and forgotten, but lives on through conversation and action.
- A policy of fairness and accommodation for those struggling with mental health issues or returning to work after a leave of absence.
- An environment in which employees are able to be productive at work and leave with energy at the end of the day.
At a time when Ontario businesses face a number of challenges, mental health does not have to be one of them.
Mental wellness in the workplace needs to be a priority every single day of the year. Industry, government, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations need to work together to address the mental health challenges affecting every corner of the province. Creating healthy workspaces is fundamental to building a stronger Ontario, and we all have a part to play in making that a reality.