Workplace mental health in Canada: new study

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A recent report published by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has found that five million young professionals in Canada are in need of mental health support, advising businesses and organizations to invest more into employee wellbeing.

“There’s still a lot of stigma in discussing mental health. Young people especially, are feeling discouraged from presenting the issues that they’re facing right now,” Genevieve Bonin, co-author of the report and managing director and partner at BCG told CTVNews.ca. “Organizations do care greatly about the health and well being of their employees, and I think this is now a very open topic for many organizations. But organizations are very slow to recognize the extent of the crisis, so they don’t necessarily have an overarching strategy.”

More than 1,300 young Canadian professionals were interviewed for the study in late 2022 to learn the effects of their workplaces on their mental wellbeing.

Theconclusion? Work is the number one source of stress for Canadians.

MENTAL HEALTH IN THE WORKPLACE

The study found 25 per cent of all Canadians reported having symptoms of a mental health disorder in 2021, while 50 per cent said they needed mental health support, and 35 per cent reported being burned out.

As for the future of the workforce and the livelihood of 18 to 24 year olds, 40 per cent of the demographic is reportedly a “breaking point” for their mental health.

For Brenda Zhou, co-founder at Feelin’ Good Collective, a corporate mindfulness and wellness company dedicated to promoting employee well-being, the rise in mental health challenges for young professionals is due primarily to a lack of emotional support from employers, particularly in the remote or hybrid working model, she told CTVNews. ca in an email.

“This makes it even more difficult to establish non-judgmental work environments—causing young professionals to face challenges in expressing their authentic selves, promoting healthy communication, and building relationships with their colleagues,” says Zhou. “This is becoming more evident with young people who are entering the workforce for the very first time post-pandemic.”

What’s more, according to the study findings, those who reported mental health struggles will experience some form of mental illness by age 40.

“On average, we spend a third of our lives at work, and we find that companies/organizations that encourage strong core values ​​are able to build a workplace culture where young professionals can find meaning in their roles,” says Zhou, who also sees a gap between the alignment of core values ​​in young professionals and leadership teams who come from older generations.

She adds that employees should be seen as unique individuals beyond their job titles, and in order to bridge the gap, there should be leadership training on how to best support employees, as well as more opportunities to encourage growth in individual and professional well-being in the office.

IMPACTS OF MENTAL HEALTH ON THE CANADIAN ECONOMY

The study authors write that well-being is highly correlated with productivity, meaning employees who are well taken care of typically produce higher quality work.

From an economic perspective, it is crucial that Canadian businesses invest in the mental health of their employees in order to support the health of the economy and continue to grow businesses, according to the study.

In fact, the study found unchecked stress in the workplace is costing Canada more than $220B annually, contributing to a national mental health crisis.

Statistics Canada reported in 2022 that the unemployment rate was steady at a historical low of 4.9 per cent. As more positions open up, it’s becoming important to attract young talent to fill them.

However, younger employees are demanding more than just a good paycheck these days. The report cites that compared with Baby Boomers, twice as many Millennials and Gen Z workers want a job culture that is invested in their mental health and well-being.

When employees have low mental well-being, the data shows they miss an average of five work days per year, and do the “bare minimum” work-wise on the 37 other days that they are working.

On the flipside, at companies with more well-being supports, a 13 per cent increase in productivity was reported. According to the report, if more companies fostered this kind of productivity, it would lift gross domestic product (GDP) from $108,000 per employee today to $122,000, and lift the average profit per employee for Canadian businesses from $21,000 to $24,000.

WHAT COULD THE FUTURE OF THE WORKPLACE LOOK LIKE?

“It’s time to start to care. There’s a little bit of that stigma, and maybe a lack of recognition in terms of what has really happened to that population. They are not lazy, they’ve been very negatively impacted. Especially with the need for talent that exists today, especially for certain skills, this will cause a major problem for organizations that fail to create an overarching mental health and wellbeing strategy,” says Bonin.

While the pandemic significantly factored into mental health challenges for Canadians in the last few years, the crisis had been growing even prior to COVID-19. Since 2016, the number of Canadians struggling with their mental health has been growing by more than 13 per cent, according to the report.

“I would just say overall sustainability is so important, because the generations that we are hiring today are the leaders of tomorrow.”