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.

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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.

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