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From Programs to Strategy: The Next Step in Creating Mentally Healthy Work Environments

Feb 22, 2016
Louise Chénier Louise Chénier
Workplace Health and Wellness Research

Mental health issues are a leading cause of absenteeism in Canadian organizations. Furthermore, on average, employees with mental health issues require longer leaves of absence from work (188 days) to recuperate than employees with physical health issues (106 days). This is very costly to Canadian employers and the economy.

Previous Conference Board research has identified significant gaps in how Canadian employers address mental health in their workplaces. A 2013 report, Disability Management: Opportunities for Employer Action, found that employees believed that their employers placed more focus on programs to support physical health than on those for mental health.

This situation, fortunately, is changing. Canadian employers are becoming more aware of the importance of mental health, and many have begun to address it. The Conference Board is presently undertaking a research series entitled Healthy Brains at Work. The second report of this four-part series, Healthy Brains at Work: Employer-Sponsored Mental Health Benefits and Programs, presents the results of a survey of Canadian employers on their approach to addressing mental health in their workplace. Survey respondents were predominantly medium- and large-sized employers in Canada, and the results suggest that most of them have now implemented a variety of workplace programs and practices to better support their employees’ mental health. (See Chart 1.)

It is important to note, however, that some of these benefits, such as prescription drug coverage, are often only offered to certain segments of the employee population. For example, permanent full- and part-time employees are much more likely to have benefits coverage than non-permanent employees and retirees. (See Table 1.) As well, small employers are also less likely to offer these benefits. Many Canadian employees still do not have access to these resources. It may not be financially sustainable for employers to offer some of these benefits to their entire employee population. In this situation, it is important for employers to identify other means of support. For example, organizations can direct employees to community or public resources that could provide assistance.

What is the next step for employers who do offer the foundational programs to address mental health at work? The Healthy Brains at Work research found that many organizations are not integrating these programs, practices, and benefits into a comprehensive strategy to address mental health at work. In fact, only 39 per cent of the surveyed Canadian employers have implemented a mental health strategy. A well-developed strategy that is communicated openly within the organization demonstrates that senior leaders are committed to the strategy and understand how important mental health is to the organization and operational success. It helps build the trust that may be required for employees to access workplace resources—without fear of a negative impact on their careers.

The Healthy Brains at Work research was made possible through the financial support of Lundbeck Canada, Sun Life Financial, SCM Health Solutions, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Canadian Depression Research and Intervention Network, Mood Disorders Society of Canada, and The Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care (CASHC).

Related Webinar

Getting Back in the Game: Managing Disability and The Return to Work
The Conference Board of Canada, March 8, 2016 at 02:00 PM  EST
Live Webinar by Louise Chenier

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