Since an organization’s most valuable asset is its people, the coronavirus pandemic made it clear that having healthy, happy employees on the job isn’t just valuable, it’s essential to profitability, said Valerie Fernandez, organizational health senior advisor at Beneva, during Benefits Canada’s 2022 Mental Health Summit in November.

In addition, she noted health isn’t an individual responsibility — employers can make a difference and build a long-lasting health culture within their organization. This health culture includes the benefits plan, employee assistance program, work-life balance and working conditions.

“By effectively communicating all of the mental-health support solutions available, employers can ensure the concepts of health and wellness are embedded in the organization’s values at all levels.”

Read: Majority of plan sponsors, plan members view their health benefits plans as excellent or good: survey

Referring to the 2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey, Fernandez highlighted how an organization’s health culture can have a positive impact on plan members’ perceptions of their employer. The survey found 91 per cent of employees with a strong health culture were more satisfied with their jobs. However, this percentage is just 56 per cent when there’s no health culture, she added.

Everyone wants to be healthy and productive at work, noted Fernandez, but no one is immune to the difficulties that affect employees and their work performance. According to the Canadian Life and Health Association’s annual fact book, life and health insurers paid out $580 million for mental-health support in 2021, up 45 per cent since 2020 and 75 per cent since 2019. And one in three people, on average, will be disabled for 90 days or more at least once before they reach age 65.

“From an organization’s point of view, what can be done to prevent absenteeism or a disability leave from impacting performance and profitability?” asked Fernandez, noting employers must consider key indicators.

Indeed, organizations have access to multiple indicators that monitor their employees’ financial health, such as profitability, productivity, absenteeism and performance. She suggested employers use these to help identify health risks and put preventative measures in place to support and assist their employees. “Depending on the reality of an organization, the direct costs related to these indicators are numerous and should be monitored over time. This will allow them to better measure the return on investment of any type of initiatives they put in place.”

Read: Claims paid out to support mental health up 75% since 2019: CLHIA

For example, employee surveys give workers a voice, allowing them to share their concerns, needs and job satisfaction. By taking their interests into account and aligning them with business objectives, organizations can increase their chances of success and return on investment, said Fernandez. “This will ensure organizations create a culture that allows their employees to express themselves without barriers and be open and consistent in their decisions.”

She suggested online cognitive behavioural therapy as one solution to reduce the amount of time an employee is absent from work. Indeed, an employee who’s absent due to a mild to moderate psychological disorder could benefit from such a tool, which could support a quicker and more sustainable return to work, as well as lower the number of recurrences.

In addition, Fernandez recommended employers implement the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s mandatory first-aid mental-health training, which provides managers with the necessary tools to identify the warning signs of psychological distress.

Health promotion and prevention plans are the best way to develop a health culture and ensure workplace attendance, she said, but noted there’s no one-size-fits-all program. “Each individual’s disability is unique, which is why it’s important to provide custom solutions for each situation, at the right moment.”

Read more coverage of the 2022 Mental Health Summit.