Showing support for employee mental well-being

April 12, 2023

For business owners, plan sponsors and administrators

Based on a standard 40-hour work week, most Canadian adults spend more than a third of their waking hours engaging in work. That’s a significant amount of time. 

If the work environment and culture is uncomfortable (or, even worse, toxic), the result can have significant impacts on an employee’s mental health.1 This can result in higher absences, lower productivity, and potentially more disability claims.1

Even on a small scale, an unhealthy environment can lead to unwell employees.

As a result, a significant number of people may be suffering. Preliminary data from our 2022 Wellness Report reveal that:

  • 46% of employees are experiencing at least one work-related mental health risk factor (work and life responsibilities feeling out of balance, lack of involvement and/or influence in how work is completed)
  • Work-related stress is the top factor interrupting employees’ sleep, with 42% of survey participants saying that their sleep isn’t good or isn’t very good. Poor sleep can have a negative influence on mental well-being, potentially creating a vicious cycle for individuals
  • Work commitments (e.g., long, or irregular working hours) are the most frequently cited impediment to making healthy daily choices, which can impact mental health as well – with 63% of employees indicating these work commitments are a top barrier

“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 Manulife’s Medical Director, Dr. Steve Pomedli of Cleveland Clinic Canada. 

“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.” 

There's room to improve workplace mental health and well-being.

Healthy workers, healthy business

As an employer, it’s in your best interest to help your employees stay healthy both physically and mentally. That’s one of the main reasons you have a group benefits plan in the first place. To bolster and improve employee mental health, consider including coverage for six of the most commonly utilized mental health practitioners: psychologist, social worker, clinical counsellor, psychotherapist, marriage/family therapist and psychoanalyst.

Since different people have different needs, it’s best to include sufficient coverage that can be used across all six types of mental health professionals to maximize flexibility and access. This will ensure employees have coverage for enough sessions with their preferred practitioner(s).

However, benefits for mental health care are just part of the solution. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In other words, it’s far better (not to mention less costly) to stop an injury or illness from occurring in the first place (or to catch it early), than it is to treat it after the fact.

How to build an organizational culture that supports mental well-being

So, what can you do to create an environment, culture, and workplace to support mental well-being among your employees?

“Actively addressing workplace stressors and promoting employee well-being can be a key element in maintaining a healthy organization, particularly from a mental health perspective,” says Dr. Pomedli. “And there is a range of important strategies that employers can use to get started.” 

Promoting mental wellness means:

  • Providing interventions at an organizational level. 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.
  • Demonstrating 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.2 
  • Following 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.
  • Supporting 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 allow your employees to work when and where they are likely to be most productive. 
  • Recognize employees for 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/or one that only rewards individuals who don’t create and enforce work-life boundaries.3 
  • Offer “intrapreneuship” opportunities. Offering opportunities outside of an employee’s current role, where he or she can lead the creation of a new product, service, or start-up scenario, can help workers develop professional skills and help them feel like they’re making a meaningful contribution to the organization.
  • Providing employee-level interventions. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can also help when offered in addition to other mental health supports. Available under many group benefits plans, an EAP provides confidential, short-term counselling for employees facing difficulties that affect their work performance and personal well-being.

It takes commitment to create a work environment that supports employee mental health and well-being. Is it worth the effort? Absolutely. 

In the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey, 45% of employees that feel their work environment supports mental health reported excellent or very good mental health ratings, compared with just 23% of employees in a non-supportive environment. 

Almost twice as many employees also reported better overall health (52% vs 28%), and 91% of employees in a supportive environment said they were satisfied with their job.4

Getting started towards a positive work environment

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has created a guide to help organizations implement the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and create a positive workplace culture.

Manulife’s Workplace Solutions offers tips, tools and resources for employers. In addition, we would encourage you to take advantage of our free online training for managers. 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. 

And, of course, talk to your advisor or your Manulife representative. We’re here to support you just as you’re there to support your employees.



1 Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2020

2 Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 2022

3 Mental Health Commission of Canada tip sheet, undated 

4 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey


Related links: