Prioritizing mental health in workplace

By Kiljon Shukullari

Law360 Canada (October 10, 2023, 9:02 AM EDT) --
Kiljon Shukullari
Kiljon Shukullari
In today’s fast-paced and demanding work environment, the importance of mental health cannot be overstated. As we recognize World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, it’s a great time for employers to re-evaluate their workplace polices and strategies to better support their employees.

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Day is “Mental health is a human right,” emphasizing the need to improve knowledge, raise awareness and take actions that promote and protect the mental health of every individual.

The workplace serves as an ideal place to implement and reinforce this year’s theme. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one in five Canadians grapple with mental health challenges. Alarmingly, at least 500,000 Canadians miss work due to mental illness every week, resulting in an estimated annual financial impact of $51 billion, with $6.3 billion attributed to lost productivity. These figures underscore the profound effects of mental health not only on individuals but also on businesses and the economy. Indirect costs, including presenteeism and retention issues, further add to the challenges.

The pressing question, then, is whether employers are doing enough to support their staff’s mental health.

A recent survey by Peninsula Group reveals that while 43 per cent of employers have noticed an increase of conversations about mental health in the workplace in the past year, only 12 per cent of employees have confided in their bosses. Moreover, one in seven of those who did speak to their employer reported that no action was taken. Clearly, there is a gap between awareness and effective support.

It’s not enough to merely acknowledge the importance of mental health, employers must commit to raising awareness, reducing stigma and promoting mental well-being. Burnout and workplace stress are common, but external factors also exert a significant influence on an individual’s mental health. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which affects two to three per cent of Canadians in their lifetime, serves as an example of such extreme factors.

While employers cannot control external circumstances like weather changes, there are ways to support employees. Establishing a comprehensive mental health policy that outlines procedures for addressing mental health disclosures and accommodation requests is one essential step.

Additionally, employers can promote mental well-being by encouraging a healthy work/life balance, offering flexible work arrangements, or event organizing group walks.

Another crucial aspect of support is connecting employees with mental health resources. Investing in these resources ensures that employees struggling with mental health issues receive the assistance they need to overcome their challenges.

Perhaps the most impactful measures in engaging in open and empathic conversations with employees. A simple conversation can make a world of a difference, allowing employees to feel supported and valued by their employers. The significance of mental health awareness and support within the workplace cannot be overstated.

Companies that prioritize mental health not only reap the benefits of a happier and more productive workplace but also contribute to a broader societal shift toward recognizing and destigmatizing mental health issues. This World Mental Health Day let’s remember that mental well-being is a universal human right, and it’s time for the workplace to reflect that belief.

Kiljon Shukullari is human resources advisory manager at Peninsula Canada.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the author’s firm, its clients, Law360 Canada, LexisNexis Canada, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.

Photo credit / rudall30

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