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Survey shows 40% of workers found employers weren’t accommodating of their mental health issue

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This is the second article of a two-part series on a survey that The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell conducted earlier this summer to examine mental health in the workplace. In the first article we focused on employees' experiences that indicated 34 per cent of the 1,575 voluntary participants said workplace stress was a main reason for their mental health issue, and that 55 per cent did not tell their workplace about their mental health issue.

Now we ask: What can leaders do to positively impact mental health in the workplace?


Employers interested in understanding and measuring the cost of mental illness have access to information such as the report by the Mental Health Commission in Canada: Making the Case for Investing in Mental Health in Canada.

Supporting employees with mental health concerns begins with understanding some of the barriers they face to gain access to the right kind of mental health support. These include: 1) Openness and trust to ask their employer for help; 2) Readiness to ask for help; 3) Challenges finding access to the right kind of support for their needs; and 4) Gaps in mental health benefits coverage.

The following infographic provides a snapshot of some of the key findings around gaining access to support found in the study. It's notable that 66 per cent of respondents sought out support, and 45 per cent found that support helpful. However, 37 per cent waited a year or more to access support and 62 per cent found it a moderate to difficult challenge to find support.

Of those who had a mental health issue, 45 per cent said they told their employer – and the majority (70 per cent) went to HR, not their own manager. For 53 per cent of respondents it took a year or more before they told their employer about their mental health issue. In addition, 43 per cent said their employer was not accommodating.


The effective management of support of mental health issues in the workplace can be positively impacted by two-way accountability. When left unsupported, mental health issues can have a negative impact on both the employee and employer. Seventy-eight per cent of respondents reported missing work due to mental illness. And 34 per cent reported missing two or more months of work.

The study also found that employees that were provided access to programs designed to support mental health reported these programs had a positive impact on their mental health.

The study also found that workplaces with strong policies aimed at reducing the stigma of mental health had fewer workers reporting that they had a negative work experience – with 22 per cent versus 39 per cent for workers at companies without such policies.

Workplaces with those policies had 56 per cent of employees that felt their work experience was impacted by mental health issues, but that rose to 62 per cent for companies without those policies or programs.

The following infographic provides a breakdown of the impact policies for stigma, mental health strategies, EFAP and harassment policies had on employees' work experience, productivity, stigma and coping skills.


The study found that 25 per cent of participants knew their organization was engaged in a mental health strategy. This suggests that there's an opportunity for employers to continue to facilitate mental health strategies as these programs can pay for themselves with increased productivity and savings in disability costs.

Following are some coaching points for employers looking to develop and implement a mental health strategy and programming or to increase the impact of current initiatives.

If you can't observe, define or measure, you're guessing Curbing mental illness in the workplace requires two-way accountability with respect to what employers and employees can do to mitigate risk and to promote mental health. We promote the Total Health Index and Employee Recommended Workplace Award, which provide a baseline on physical, mental, workplace and life experiences, as well as what impact programming is having on employees' total health and well-being. Employers use the baseline as test one. They can add programming and re-evaluate in test two down the road. Using a two-way, evidence-based approach increases the likelihood that employees and employers are doing all they can to positively impact employees' health, engagement and productivity.

Create a caring culture – For employees to ask for help early, before small issues turn into big ones, they need to feel safe and trust their employers. Mental health issues are not a sign of weakness; they can be symptoms of employees having a hard time coping with the demands of life. The root causes of mental health issues can include clinical mental illness, life events and challenges coping with stress. Only through conversations and education can employees and leaders discover that invisible issues like mental illness are real and treatable, which helps to remove stigma. Like physical ailments such as diabetes, mental illness is not visible. A person can look like an Olympic athlete and have diabetes, but that doesn't mean they're weak. Mental illness can be similar; because we can't see it doesn't mean it's not real. The good news is that, like most chronic illnesses, through early detection (such as assessments of general mental health) and intervention treatment, success is typically good.

Support the employee-manager relationship – There's no more important relationship than the employee-manager relationship. Most managers are chosen because of their technical, industry and operations skills. Training managers to understand and support employees with mental health issues is beneficial so managers know how to support employees in need. However, it's suggested that senior leaders not assume that all managers are taking optimal care of themselves. When training managers, provide them with insights on the differences between good and bad stress and mental health and illness, along with typical signs and symptoms of mental illness and the importance of trusted, two-way relationships. Also, provide them an opportunity to self-evaluate how well they're coping, the role of coping skills on mental health, how to influence employees' coping skills, their role as manager, and how to support an employee struggling with mental illness. The bottom line is that a manager's well-being impacts how effectively they can support employees in both the good and bad times.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

Jesse Adams is a senior consultant and lead of the Total Health Index (THI) analytics team at Morneau Shepell.

Register your company today for the 2018 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at

Read more columns like this, and read about the winners and finalists of the 2017 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at

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