Mental health concerns impact the workplace

January 3, 2024

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators

The major impacts of mental health concerns on the Canadian workplace

Millions of individuals affected every year

Mental health disorders continue to be a major concern in Canada. According to recent statistics, about 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime, with depression and anxiety being the most common.1

In addition to the personal toll that these disorders can take on individuals and their families, they also have a significant effect on workplaces and the economy, with an estimated cost of over $50 billion annually.2 Despite the prevalence of mental health disorders, many individuals still face barriers to accessing care and support, highlighting the need for greater awareness and resources to address this issue.

This article explores the prevalence of mental health disorders in Canada, the implications for the workplace, and the steps employers can take to support their employees' mental health.

How mental health affects the workplace

In the most recent Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey, 18% of surveyed plan members said they currently have a diagnosis of depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition.3

According to The Wellness Report 2022, a significant number of people may be struggling. Almost half (46%) of employees reported at least one work-related mental health risk factor. Respondents also say work-related stress is the top factor interrupting their sleep, and work commitments are the biggest roadblock to making healthy choices. Both of these factors can impact mental health.4

“Our work and our workplaces can be sources of satisfaction, positive social interaction, pride and fulfilment, but work-related stressors can also have significant impacts on our physical, emotional, and mental well-being,” says Dr. Andrew Morgan, psychiatrist with Cleveland Clinic Canada, Manulife’s Medical Director.

When it comes to treating their mental health condition, your employees are turning to their group benefits plans. According to recent aggregate drug claims data from Manulife, 22% of unique claimants by chronic condition had made a drug claim for medications used to treat mental illness.5

Mental health concerns are particularly important because, when not appropriately addressed, they can have significant short-term and long-term effects on individuals and organizations. For example, mental health conditions are a leading cause of disability. Our data shows 36% of workers on long-term disability report mental health as a primary diagnosis.5

Dr. Morgan says, “Studies have found that employees experiencing high levels of stress, little control over work processes, and who don’t have adequate workplace supports in place are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, mental health problems, and even an overall higher risk of mortality.”

When an organization struggles with performance issues, absenteeism, or disability claims related to mental health concerns, it’s possible the coverage in its benefits plan isn’t meeting the needs of employees. And that could mean it’s not meeting the larger goals of the business, either.

You can read more about coverage costs for mental health specialists here: Is your plan fuelling recovery?

Building a workplace environment that supports mental well-being

Building a workplace culture that supports mental well-being is crucial for creating a healthy work environment.

"A positive workplace culture is vital for promoting mental well-being, and when employees feel valued and supported, they are more likely to be engaged and productive," says Eric Pfeiffer, Workplace Well-being Consultant at Manulife. “A supportive culture can reduce stigma around mental health, increase employee engagement, and overall job satisfaction.”

Investing in your employees’ mental health isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good for your business. Building a culture of caring can help build loyalty and retain your current employees. Your organization’s programming can also send a strong and positive message to potential new hires. A study found that Canadian companies with mental health programs in place for just one year had an average return on investment (ROI) of $1.62 for every dollar invested. Those with programs in place for 3 or more years saw even better results and ROI – at $2.18 for every dollar invested.6

Here’s what you can do to promote mental health and well-being in the workplace:

Actions to take at an organizational level

Take a leading role. Business owners and senior leaders play a pivotal role, setting expectations, leading by example, and allocating resources to mental health and well-being in the workplace.

Demonstrate your commitment to psychological health and safety. Workplace culture starts at the top and requires buy-in from senior leaders, managers, and employees. Support and participation at all levels of the organization will help improve the environmental and behavioural factors that influence how all employees interact with each other daily.7

Follow the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the standard is a set of guidelines, tools and resources focused on promoting psychological health and preventing psychological harm in the workplace.

Support work-life balance. Keep workloads reasonable and give employees control over how the work is accomplished. For example, flexible hours and work-from-home options may help your employees to work when and where they are likely to be most productive.

Actions to take at an employee level

Recognize employee achievements. Ensure managers and leaders understand the importance of recognizing the work of their team members. Provide leaders with practical tips on how to show appreciation without contributing to a culture of toxic productivity and in a way that can still support important work-life boundaries.8

Offer “intrapreneurship” opportunities. Offering opportunities outside of an employee’s current role, where they can lead the creation of a new product, service, or start-up scenario, can help workers develop professional skills and help them feel they’re making a meaningful contribution to the organization.

Providing employee-level interventions. An Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) can also help when offered in addition to other mental health supports. Available under many group benefits plans, an EFAP provides confidential, short-term counselling for employees facing difficulties that affect their work performance and personal well-being.

Changing workplace culture to support mental well-being is a complex process that requires commitment and effort. But the benefits can be significant, both for employees and for your organization.

Recommendations for coverage

Consider adding or supplementing your coverage for mental health: The average amount of coverage offered by Canadian employers for mental health services (such as therapy or counselling) is $750. This amount would likely only cover between 3 and 5 sessions of therapy.9 Studies have found that most people need between 8 and 20 sessions per year to get adequate treatment and support for common mental health conditions, such as depression or anxiety. For this number of visits, employees would require between $2,000 and $4,000 worth of coverage per year.10

Manulife’s Workplace Solutions for Mental Health also offers tips, tools, and resources for employers. In addition, we encourage you to take advantage of our free online Manager mental health training. Featuring real workplace situations and employee/employer interactions, this four-part course is designed to equip leaders with the insight and skills they need to support mental wellness.

Read more about the group benefits products and services that can be included in your organization’s mental health strategy, including virtual health care, personalized medicine, and virtual health coaching.

To find out more about what your group benefits plan covers or to make changes to your plan, contact your usual Manulife representative. We’re here to support you just as you’re there to support your employees.



1,will%20have%20or%20have%20had%20a%20mental%20illness, 2021

2 Canadian Mental Health Association, Making mental health part of Canada's universal health care system, 2022

3 2023 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey. April 2023. BASE: Plan members split sample (n=515), 2023

4 The Wellness Report, Manulife, 2022

5 Manulife claims data analysis, 2023

6, 2019 

7, 2022

8, 2019

9 , 2021

10 Clinical Guidelines for the Management of Adults with Major Depressive Disorder, Canadian Network for Mood and Anxiety Treatments (CANMAT), 2016 and Canadian Psychological Association, 2021 

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