Put on your own mask before assisting others.” We hear these words every time we travel — a reminder that if we don’t first care for ourselves, we cannot care for others. In an industry founded on providing care, a focus on employee wellness, including mental health, must be at the core of workplace culture.
The Current State of Workplace Mental Health
According to a Statistics Canada survey in late 2020, one in five Canadians were experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress. Of those who reported a mental health issue, 68 per cent stated their health had worsened since the pandemic and 30 per cent of workplace disability claims were related to mental-health issues. Despite leadership efforts to curb these effects, a 2022 Lifeworks study shows little change in mental-health risk post-pandemic. This imposes tremendous costs on employers due to increased absenteeism and turnover, as well as decreased productivity, problem solving, innovation and overall engagement.
The ROI of a Mental-Health Program
Deloitte revealed the cost of poor mental health in the workplace in Canada to be at least $50 billion, and that investing in proactive programs that promote positive mental health in addition to treatment will, on average, produce a yearly ROI of $1.62 for every $1 invested. This result increases to $2.18 after three years.
This data is compelling, especially when also considering the tangible outcomes of workplace wellness, such as improved attraction and retention — 91 per cent of GenZ and millennials will seek an employer who cares for their mental health.
How to Support People…Mentally
A mental-health program requires an integrated-systems approach. The first priority is awareness and stigma reduction. Afraid of reprisal, many employees don’t often want their managers to know they are not feeling well. Healthy workplaces have abandoned a “suck it up” or “fake-it-‘till-you-make-it” mentality, with leaders encouraging authentic, empathetic and compassionate conversations around mental health.
Secondly, it’s important to review foundational benefits. Offering extended medical and employee-assistance programs isn’t enough.
Engaging a benefits’ consultant can help craft a plan that is diverse and flexible, including health-spending accounts (HSA’s) and virtual care. Ensuring employees are aware of what they are entitled to and how they can access it is key.
Thirdly, companies need to focus on management training. Leaders may express “this isn’t my responsibility, I’m not a therapist.” However, training management to recognize the signs of poor mental health, holding compassionate conversations, and connecting employees to support will greatly increase program ROI. Consider offering mental health first-aid training.
Next, the program should be integrated into the employee experience every day. Offerings should not be viewed as “extra” or a “perk,” but should help people build habits to support their own wellness. Consider training for technical wellness in the workplace with new courses such as Email Ninja now facilitated in Canada via Spacemaker.au.
Finally, review key data, such as benefits usage rates or absenteeism, or adopt a wellness app such as CheckingIn to collect real-time sentiment and monitor the effectiveness of your wellness program.
Cayley Dow is the founder and CEO of Thrivity Inc., a human-resources consulting and coaching firm that helps service-oriented businesses to thrive in the ever-evolving world of work.