OHS Canada Magazine

Quebec considering labelling stress, burnout as occupational illnesses

Province expected to release new mental health plan in 2020

Next year, work-related mental illnesses such as anxiety, stress and burnout may become recognized occupational illnesses in Quebec. (Adobe Stock)

Awareness of mental health in the workplace continues to grow in Canada, with possible changes in Quebec set to affect employers.

Earlier this year, the province announced upcoming changes to its occupational health and safety legislation. Among the proposed changes? Work-related mental illnesses such as anxiety, stress and burnout may become recognized occupational illnesses. The five-year plan for mental health is expected to be released in spring of 2020.

Canadian workplaces are being hindered by increasing stress levels, with one third of employees reporting greater stress from work compared to five years ago, according to a 2018 survey of 1,591 workers by Morneau Shepell, an HR consultancy in Toronto.

Increased workplace stress is in part caused by feelings of isolation at work, according to the survey, while the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety points to unmanageable workloads, lack of recognition and career development, and poor interpersonal relationships at work as potential causes of stress.

These factors can cause employees to suffer from mental health problems, which cost the Canadian economy an estimated $51 billion annually, according to data from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.


“When employees are having a hard time at work, their well-being and performance can be seriously affected,” said Christianne Money, HR consultancy team lead at Peninsula Canada, an HR advisory firm in Toronto. “Mental health problems can lead to absenteeism, high turnover rates, low productivity and even conflict and accidents.”

Advice for employers

Employers should regularly assess their workplace and develop policies to ensure workers are respected and protected from occupational hazards, she said.

“Fostering a welcoming and inclusive work environment that allows employees a reasonable degree of flexibility and a healthy work-life balance is conducive to better mental health. This includes facilitating an environment where employees are comfortable speaking about their mental health concerns with management.”

Workplace trends demonstrate a growing appreciation for flexibility and additional benefits, especially among millennials, said Money. If employers want to ensure high employee retention, they may want to consider permitting flexible start and end times, allowing employees to work from home and offering employee assistance programs.

Quiet spaces for employees to go when they are feeling overwhelmed or unwell can also be helpful in reducing stress or anxiety, she said.

As work-life balance and employees’ wellbeing become increasingly popular areas of concern, now is the time for employers to prepare for possible changes to employment legislation, said Money.

If the law changes to require business owners to fulfill additional obligations surrounding mental health in the future, it will be easier to meet the requirements by preparing ahead of time.

Kristina Vassilieva is an HR writer for Peninsula Canada in Toronto.

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1 Comment » for Quebec considering labelling stress, burnout as occupational illnesses
  1. It’s increasingly important for workers in Canada to put self-care first.

    Toxic-Workplace culture that ignores employee wellness is known to have contributed highly to the demise of mental health in public safety professions.

    When ‘stress’ takes us right out of the game, it’s often too-late to recover.

    For an enlightening examination of why Quebec is thinking along a right track, Google, “Stress Portrait of a Killer” and watch it through.

    Impositions of ‘stress’ aren’t necessarily the problem here. Of course, workplace stress should be minimized as much as possible. What gets us in trouble is that we don’t consider stress and causing harm to our physical well-being. The longer we’re exposed without right relief, the greater is the damage done over time.

    Self-Care commitment on the part of both workers and employers means we may need to change how we do work to ensure work-life balance. Without that, we’re at the mercy of ourselves, and our ability to manage stress-loads.

    Given our competitive way of living life together in society, with economic measures still the central focus in marking the success or failure of our society on the whole:

    We neglect what’s most important and by the time we realize it, we’re one of the too-many now disabled workers in Canada-existing on incomes that won’t even meet real costs of living in many cases.

    Pay attention to what’s happening in Canada with social issues piling up. Our public safety workers, first responders, and those in care community are still dropping like flies, with many (4 over the last 3 weeks) taking ourselves out by suicide.

    Watch that film. I’m pretty sure you’ll see what we all need to see.

    Stress is a killer.

    It’s time we pay much more informed attention to this reality.


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