Why mental health in the workplace matters

8 min read
Amanda Schewaga

The last two years have been a bit of a doozy, haven’t they?

You don’t need to look far to sort out why, either. From the pandemic to the shift toward remote work (and back again, for many folks!) to ongoing geopolitical and economic instability, it can sometimes start to all feel pretty overwhelming at times.

All of these pressures can feel like a lot to work through and comprehend – even just on an individual level.

If you’re someone who runs an organization, leads a team, or heads up any sort of people-powered initiative, though, you know that these considerations are critically important for you to parse through. At stake is the go-forward health and wellbeing of your team members, and of your business endeavours, too.

With this in mind, I’ve taken some time today to write on why mental health in the workplace matters – for you, your employees, and ultimately for your business’s bottom line. Read on for more.

Related: Keeping employee motivation high in times of stress

Young man rubbing his eyesMental health in the workplace: 5 key takeaways

Over the past two years, employers across the country have had to make massive changes to their workplaces in order to keep employees safe from COVID. With all eyes on physical health, it was easy to underestimate the mental toll of working through a pandemic.

Let’s take stock.

1. Canada’s current level of work stress  

Before looking toward what business leaders should do to focus on mental health and wellness in the workplace, it’s important to have a sense of where we’re coming from and how things stand right now in terms of work stress in our country.

That might seem like a big, insurmountable ask – undertaking a nationwide assessment on the mental health of Canadians coast-to-coast-to-coast. But as luck would have it, there’s just such an ongoing study publicly available and accessible to all: the Lifeworks Mental Health Index.

Currently, the overall Mental Health Score of Canada sits at 64.9 points out of a possible 100.

That score lands us squarely within the same “Strained” range of 50-79 points that we’ve maintained since the start of the pandemic.

For context, this score reflects a population whose mental health is similar to the most distressed 4% of the pre-2020 benchmark population.

Yikes – sounds like a focus on mental health certainly wouldn’t go remiss in the current state of Canadian wellness, that’s for sure.

2. Why mental health matters in the workplace

So, Canadians are going through a bit of a rough patch right now – but why should that matter to business leaders?

It’s a question that gets tossed around with fair frequency as conversations around mental wellness and work stress have become less stigmatized in recent years and more widespread.

The fact of the matter is, it’s difficult to imagine a reason the mental health of Canadians wouldn’t matter to business leaders.

As findings have come to showcase, mental health issues can have a profound effect on not just the employees who might be experiencing them, but on businesses and the economy as a whole.

Desk with the word burnout

Poor mental health can impact employee job performance, productivity, creativity, and more.

Work stress affects a person’s ability to:

  • Engage in their work
  • Effectively communicate with their coworkers
  • Function physically

Add to that the fact that about 30% of short- and long-term disability claims in Canada are attributed to mental health problems, which costs the Canadian economy more than $50 billion annually. Suddenly, it becomes clear that mental illness is just as real and valid a concern as any other health issue, and one that is more than worth our time and focus in addressing.

All that said, though: what can thoughtful leaders actually do to make a real, marked impact on work stress? You’re in luck – I’ve got some thoughts on just that subject to share.

3. Make a difference by talking the talk AND walking the walk

When it comes to employers and business leaders having a real impact on the mental health of working Canadians, the single biggest thing they can do is to create an environment that places value on mental wellness and actually follows through on honouring those commitments made.

That last bit is honestly the most important part of this whole article.

Simply saying it’s important to you and your business doesn’t cut it.

You can’t just talk the talk – you have to walk the walk, too.

Decreasing work stress involves:

  • Fostering open lines of communication and reinforcing positive behaviours that destigmatize mental illness and conversations around mental health
  • Making mental health assessment tools available to all team members and building social support networks for people to lean on
  • Periodically reminding workers where mental health resources can be found Start an employee assistance program
  • Creating dedicated quiet spaces for employees to retreat to without need for justification
  • Giving team members the opportunity to provide input and participate in decision making on issues that could impact on-the-job stress

These thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg, of course. Communication plays a key role – checking in regularly (monthly at the least) and following up on any thoughts or concerns that result will help ensure your team members feel seen, heard, and valued.

Instituting a no-check-in policy during vacations and off-hours will help employees disconnect and recharge on their downtime.

This will set them up for continued success when they’re back on the clock again.

Flexible work schedules: the secret productivity booster

Woman floating on her back

Flexible work schedules can play a key role in building a culture that prioritizes mental wellness.

When employees are given the time to manage life as it comes at them, they can then focus their efforts 100% when they’re on the job. Flexibility will keep them from lapsing into stressful presenteeism by trying to juggle the demands of both work and life at once.

Additional wellness-boosters like these also help:

  • Team outings
  • Shutting down the office for family-friendly events
  • Allowing employees to accrue additional time off as incentive for a job well-done

And if you’re looking for businesses that have embraced these sorts of practices with success? Benefits Canada has you covered with a round-up of six Canadian employers that go the extra mile for their team members’ mental health.

4. What can small business leaders do about work stress?

Coffee shop owner helping worker

While small businesses might lack the structure and formal value statements of large organizations, mental wellness is perhaps more important here than ever, given how key team members typically are in their roles.

In addition to the above practices, be sure to put a marked focus on recognizing that your employees are people, too. Even though the demands of a small business can seem never-ending, it’s important to treat your team like the people they are by respecting their family commitments, off-time, weekends, and evenings.

Your business’s success depends on their ongoing commitment, after all. So, you’ll want to be sure your workers are consistently feeling mentally well and like their most capable, creative, productive selves. Only then can they help you achieve all those lofty goals and ambitions you’re pursuing together.

Related: Self-care for stressed out business owners

5. Good mental health is good business

We’d mentioned as much earlier in this article but prioritizing mental health in the workplace isn’t just good policy; it’s good business, too.

Team members who are mentally well are more creative and productive – and more successful in their roles as a result.

That success means they’ll likely stick with your company longer, too, growing into star players on their teams and within the industry.

Top-tier team members attract top-tier industry talent, leading to higher-quality recruitment. This results in more successful projects, further growth, and ultimately, a better bottom line overall.

Not too bad for taking a few steps to support mental health, right?

When it comes down to it, supporting mental wellness in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do for your team members – it’s the right thing to do for your venture, too.

Invest in the sustainable success of your team by investing in mental health today and watch as your business grows by leaps and bounds – and becomes a better, more comfortable place to work, too – simply by giving mental health its due.

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