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Employee mental health and wellness has become a growing concern. Businesses are looking to design benefits programs that offer employees more support in this area.
- Are your people more absent from work these days?
- Are productivity levels slipping?
- Are more employees on short-term disability?
- With more absences, lower productivity, are costs going up?
It’s important for leaders to understand the difference between mental health and mental illness. These terms are often used interchangeably, but in fact, they have different meanings. The workplace has a role to play in both. Mental health can be summarized as how well a person is feeling and how well that individual is able to cope with and overcome problems. It includes our thoughts, emotions, feelings, social connections, and relationships. In the same way that we exercise to protect our physical health, there are things people can do to protect their mental health.
Mental illness can be summarized as what happens when there’s a change in a person’s mental health. The change can affect their thinking, mood, and behaviours. As a result of how they are thinking and feeling, a person might be in distress and unable to cope with challenges or solve problems effectively. Just like physical illness, on any given day, someone in your organization is likely dealing with a mental illness.
Organizations, leaders, and employees themselves all have a role to play in fostering a workplace that encourages mental wellness. Mental health training for leaders and employees, as well as processes, programs, and culture all combine to create a safe and supportive workplace.
The federal government estimates 3-million Canadians, age 18 and older, have a mood or anxiety disorder.
In January 2022, Mental Health Research Canada reported that almost half of all Canadian households have at least one person who’s been diagnosed with a mood disorder, a number that has increased 7 - 8% since the pandemic began.5 And the prevalence of mental health issues might be far greater than that. It’s thought that up to half of all Canadians with symptoms of a mood disorder have yet to be diagnosed.4
“When adequate treatment is received, many people with mood and anxiety disorders function well, both personally and professionally,” says Dr. Georgia Pomaki, Manulife’s Director of Mental Health Best Practices: Disability and Life. “But when their treatment needs are unmet, it can be more difficult for them to work, often requiring job modifications.”
This could mean changes to the number of hours worked, the type of work they’re doing, or changes to the way the work is performed. There’s also a higher risk for unplanned absences and disability.7
As a first step, it’s important to give employees a sense of control over their work. It will provide employees more certainty in the very uncertain times that we’re living through. For example, give your employees responsibility over how they organize their work. Be creative and open-minded. And you can find ways to give more autonomy, which we know makes work more meaningful. Meaning can be an antidote to burnout. Another idea is to strengthen connections. This can be done by having leaders regularly meet one-on-one with their team members. And start the meeting by asking, “how are you?”
Look out for changes in an employee’s or coworker’s behaviour. For example, are they more quiet than usual? Do they seem more tired? Do they uncharacteristically show up late to meetings? Or are they making many negative comments or sound like they don’t care.
If you’re a manager and you’re noticing changes, begin by talking to your employees. Talk to them and share that you're noticing something is different.
Offer some examples of those behaviour changes and use empathy during these conversations. Sometimes, people don’t realize they show up differently to work. Listen, then validate what they’re sharing.
This first conversation is very important. You don’t have to find a solution right there and then, but you’re opening a communication path that you can cross again and can offer help and resources in the future.
We believe that workplace culture is key to your organization’s mental wellness. Manager training is an essential piece of workplace culture and mental health strategy. Manager training resources are designed to equip leaders with tools to help improve and maintain the mental wellness of employees.
Visit our “Empower managers” page for Manulife’s suite of manager training products and services.
- 1 Manulife claims data, 2021.
- 2 Deloitte, 2022.
- 3 Mental Health Research Canada, 2022.
- 4 Mental Health During COVID-19 Outbreak: Poll #10; 2022 .
- 5 Public Health Agency of Canada, Use of medication and psychological counselling among Canadians with mood and/or anxiety disorders, 2017. Siobhan O’Donnell, MSC; Maria Syoufi, MSC; Wayne Jones, MA, MSC; Kathryn Bennett, PhD; Louise Pelletier, MD.
- 6 Public Health Agency of Canada, Mood and Anxiety Disorders in Canada.
- 7 Mental Health Commission of Canada; Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Mental illness and addictions: Facts and Statistics. (undated). Available at: https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics .