2019-05-01 - Mentally Healthy Workplaces

The business community sees it every day. Whether we work for and with small, medium or big businesses, across all sectors and across Canada: overwork, deadline anxiety, life stressors that manifest at work, and other stresses negatively influence mental health. We can and must do better for our colleagues and employees. This week is Mental Health Week in Canada – and we think that makes it a great time to engage in a mental wellness conversation with our community.

Making mental wellness a core business principle isn’t hard – but it does require a shift in communication and expectation. Fortunately, there are guidelines like the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard). The first voluntary set of guidelines of its kind in the world, the Standard offers a blueprint for organizations and businesses seeking to evaluate their current good practices and looking to build a resilient and fulfilled workforce.

Chambers of commerce across Canada, including the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, are stepping up to participate in an initiative called 338 Conversations – started by the MHCC. The call to action is for chambers of commerce to become workplace mental health champions and encourage our members to provide an environment that is conducive to supporting mental wellness. The number 338 represents the MPs across Canada that we have invited to be champions with us.

338 Conversations reminds us that we can all make a difference: from an employee having the courage to speak up about workplace anxieties, to a stretched-too-thin manager rethinking their approach, we all stand to benefit when workplace wellness is the rule – not the exception.

Just as we eat right, exercise and get enough rest to ensure optimum physical health, we should be taking stock of good habits to maximize mental wellness. This includes examining how our workplaces contribute to our state of mind – both in positive and harmful ways.

But just how big of an issue is it anyway?

Estimates on how much mental health issues cost Canadian employers range from $6 to $15 billion annually and costs our economy overall $50 billion each year. 1

30% of short- and long-term disability claims in Canada attributable to mental health and illness.2

These are staggering numbers, but they can only be rough estimates because so many of our colleagues, friends and neighbours still suffer in silence. I think we’ve made strides as a society over the past several years with reducing stigma around mental health, but I think we can all agree there is much more work to be done.

We spend, on average, 60% of our waking hours at work and in a recent survey, nearly half of working Canadians said that work or their place of work was the most stressful part of their day3. In fact, only 23% of Canadian workers would feel comfortable talking to their employer about a psychological health issue.4

As an employer, these points in particular are very disturbing. I’m sure all of our workplaces are stressful from time-to-time, but I hate to think about more than half of our employees being stressed just heading into work. And furthermore, that fewer than a quarter of those wouldn’t feel comfortable talking about this situation so that solutions can be found, or at the very least – a level of understanding and support.

In Canada, 500,000 people miss work every week due to a mental health challenge5. If employees are stressed in their personal life, or are experiencing stress at work, they aren’t working at their most productive, and the aftershocks are likely to spill over into their home-life – becoming a vicious cycle of unhappiness and ill-health.

By taking concrete steps to build a culture of support and acceptance – one that values and encourages independent thought – companies could improve the psychological health of their employees while boosting the bottom line.

By 2031, it is estimated that Canada will face a labour shortage of 2.1 million workers6. Tapping into the rich diversity and spectrums of experience across society will unlock greater productivity and creativity. Creating a psychologically sound workplace does more than benefit the one in five employees living with a mental illness – it benefits five out of five – because we are all at our best when we feel supported and are coping well with life’s stresses.

The MHCC also has a host of other tools and resources, including instructional videos that highlight 13 factors that contribute to positive mental health, and employee training courses like The Working Mind. It’s not just big business and corporate Canada that stand to benefit. The Standard has been employed in diverse workplaces including boutique law firms, trucking and energy companies, healthcare settings and post-secondary institutions with equally compelling results.

I’m proud the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce is actively seeking to improve the psychological health of workers in our community. This week, we provided our fourth annual “Your Mental Health Matters” workshop for our members and their employees with the help and support of the NB branch of The Canadian Mental Health Association and with sponsorship from Wilson’s Insurance, who have been with us from the beginning. We were proud that our MP Matt DeCourcey joined with us to share his message of promoting mental wellness in our workplaces and community. Those who attended were encouraged and felt supported by their employers. Next time you see an opportunity for your employees to participate in an event or activity like this… take advantage… there is no doubt in my mind, creating space for mental health at work means opening a dialogue that will spill over from work to the dinner table.

Krista Ross is CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce, a nationally accredited organization with nearly 1,000 members, is an active business organization engaged in policy development and advocacy that affects the competitiveness of our members and the Canadian business environment. The Chamber’s vision is ‘Stronger Community Through Business Prosperity’.

1 MHCC – https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2016-06/Investing_in_Mental_Health_FINAL_Version_ENG.pdf

2 MHCC – https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/what-we-do/workplace

3 Workplace Strategies for Mental Health – https://www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com/mental-healthissues-facts-and-figures

4 Government of Canada – https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/healthsafety/reports/psychological-health.html

Centre for Addiciton and Mental Health – https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mentalhealth-statistics

6 MHCC – https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/default/files/2018-04/Business_case_for_aspiring_workforce_eng.pdf