OHS Canada Magazine

Workplace mental health is good for business


July 6, 2022
Sponsored by  by Mental Health Commission of Canada
Health & Safety
Sponsored by Mental Health Commission of Canada

The role of workplaces in promoting positive mental health among their employees has become an important discussion in both small and large businesses in North America. Not only do employers recognize the role of mental health in promoting a positive workplace culture, but also its relationship with productivity. During 2020, claims for mental health support rose by 24%, and of the $50 billion that mental health services cost in Canada annually, $20 billion stems directly from workplace losses.

With these numbers rising amid post-pandemic changes, employers are seeing that there is a cost to overlooking mental health as an organization. This includes the cost of disability claims. According to research by Deloitte, who are leaders in the study of mental health in the workplace, mental health issues account for up to 30 to 40 percent of short-term disability (STD) claims and 30 percent of long-term disability (LTD) claims in Canada. Mental illness can also impact an employee’s level of competence in their current positions. Research suggests that depression can reduce cognitive performance by up to 35% and can interfere with the ability to complete physical tasks approximately 20% of the time.

In workplaces with specific health and safety and accident prevention requirements, mental illness presents a risk to the physical safety of employees when unmanaged. Canadian oil production platform Hibernia has worked to mitigate this risk by introducing new health and safety policies, reflecting ‘psychological safety’ as a priority in the workplace. The leader of the company’s wellness committee, Steve Tizzard, recognizes the role of employers to reduce risk of mental harm in the workplace. “We are seeing globally that if workers do not have their focus [or their] ‘head in the game,’ they can be distracted, fatigued, and have issues with even routine tasks.” Tizzard emphasizes the link between physical and mental health. “I am confident that mental health does not just contribute to physical safety on the job, but physical health in general.” Hibernia’s commitment to employee health and safety includes an investment in training through the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) program, offered by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and the company was recognized by Canada’s Safest Employers Awards in 2015.

Tizzard agrees that employers are seeing the opportunity cost of not taking employee mental health seriously. “Companies are not just ‘talking the talk’ but ‘walking the walk’. I have worked with many companies locally, nationally, and internationally that are realizing the return on investment and the value of supporting employees.”

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With a shift in focus comes more data. According to Deloitte, a positive return on investment (ROI) on mental health initiatives in Canadian workplaces is within reach. In one study of seven companies who provided three years of data, the median yearly ROI on mental health programs was CA$1.62. Companies whose programs had been in place for three or more years had a median yearly ROI of CA$2.18.

Business leaders at all levels are putting into action their prioritization of mental health with investments in training, workplace initiatives, and policy, and are reaping the benefits. In January 2021, major Canadian airline WestJet found that their rising number of short and long-term disability claims, a trend that was only made worse by pandemic pressures, had reached a breaking point. In response, they invested in The Working Mind, a mental health-focused training program and resource bank.

Across Canada, companies of all sizes are realizing tangible benefits to investing in mental health, recognizing that the greatest risk to their workforce is to do nothing. Data leaders like Deloitte have put into perspective the ROI that this type of investment can have, presenting a clear business case for mental health programs. An investment in mental health isn’t only good for workplace culture, overall productivity, and employee health and safety, it’s simply good for business.

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