Nearly three years have passed since the coronavirus pandemic became a household name.
In some ways, March 11, 2020 — the day the World Health Organization declared the global pandemic — feels like yesterday, but in others, it feels like decades ago. In the days, weeks and months since then, the world has irreversibly changed and we’re all still figuring out how we fit into it again. There are varying levels of impact, of course, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say everyone’s mental health has been affected in some way.
Three years ago, workplace mental health was already a major focus for human resources and benefits professionals. Many employers had long-standing mental-health strategies in place — as years of robust submissions to the Workplace Benefits Awards can attest to — and others took a more reactive approach, propelled by the emotional and social effects of the pandemic.
Benefits Canada’s 2020 January/February issue — which was produced and printed mere weeks before the start of the pandemic — was our inaugural Mental Health Issue. It took a broad view of the mental-health topics facings employers and employees, but with the subsequent years leading to a rise in mental-health issues, the 2021 and 2022 Mental Health Issues dove deeper into the impact of the coronavirus crisis. This year, the 2023 issue strives to answer the question: what’s next for improving mental-health support in the workplace?
Is the answer improvements to mental-health coverage, such as increasing the dollar amount covered or expanding the types of professionals listed under the benefits plan? In this issue’s Head to Head, Benefits Canada posed this question to two plan sponsors — Coke Canada and CSA Group — with each explaining why it’s important to implement a combination of higher coverage and a variety of practitioners.
Another question Benefits Canada is tackling in this issue is whether it’s time to update the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
With the pandemic ushering in changes to the working environment and an increasingly urgent focus on employees’ mental health, the framework — which was introduced exactly a decade ago — may be lagging behind some of the innovative programs and initiatives currently in place, or under development, at leading Canadian companies.
In the Benefits Feature, Benefits Canada learned a technical committee comprised of employers, union representation, academia, regulators and other members is set to meet this year to consider recent research and input from stakeholders. The review may lead to a new version of the standard and is aiming to make it easier for employers to follow, according to several experts on the committee.
“We’re not throwing the baby out with the bath water, so those who have been aligning with the standard, who have been using it, who have been striving towards it for over a decade, will not feel like they have to start over,” says Mary Ann Baynton, director of collaboration and strategy for Canada Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health. “They will have continuity and just a few tweaks. Our intention is to make it better and easier to use.”
Finally, it isn’t possible to consider what’s next for workplace mental health without putting it into the context of the future of work. Following up Benefits Canada’s inaugural Future of Work Survey, which was launched with a report and webinar at the end of last year, this issue’s HR Update, considered how to support employee mental health and well-being in the context of the future workplace.
As employers reshape their respective ways of working, they’re using employee well-being as a cornerstone consideration. This includes weaving wellness into broader organizational goals, finding work-life balance through flexibility, personalizing programs and initiatives and training managers to lead by example.
Many questions are surfacing about the direction employers — and the rest of the industry — are taking to support employee mental health. While ‘What’s next?’ is certainly the central question, it’s branching out on several different paths. As long as the answers incorporate adequate coverage levels and practitioners, an evolution of the national standard and the future of work, I believe all paths will lead to better mental health for Canadians.
Jennifer Paterson is the editor of Benefits Canada.