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.

Advertisement

“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.