Accommodation an affordable path to benefits savings

Providing accommodation to employees with mental illness can yield major benefits savings of about $56,000 to $200,000 per employee over a five-year projection.

Speaking at Benefits Canada’s 2018 Mental Health Summit Toronto on Nov. 12, Nitika Rewari, manager of workplace mental health at the Mental Health Commission of Canada, shared the results of employer case studies, noting the benefits to employees included improved quality of life, job satisfaction and being a productive member of society. It looked at five companies, conducting an economic analysis, observations, document reviews and qualitative interviews.

Read: What to consider when interviewing candidates with a mental illness

“We interviewed people with lived experience in those workplaces, their supervisors, their co-workers, their leadership, their human resources and a mix of things brought us to this,” she said. “We looked at the costs and benefits associated with accommodation of individuals who have a mental illness and who are disclosing that — not necessarily whether they have depression or anxiety or anything like that, but to say, ‘I have a mental illness and I need some accommodation.’”

The next step was a conversation about the symptoms caused by the illness, such as memory problems or anxiety and mood issues, or accommodations like adjusting work schedules to account for the side-effects of medication.

“Depending on different work environments, different solutions are possible,” said Rewari. “And many times those solutions don’t cost anything, they’re just a different way of doing things.

Read: Getting to know staff ‘one of the biggest things’ for addressing mental health

“We looked at some costs and benefits, and we found things like productivity related to a workplace, as well as other external costs such as training, consulting fees, etc. But then there were benefits associated with those as well,” she added.

As an example, Rewari referenced a food service company that mandated hiring those with a mental illness and found its turnover was actually lower than its competition. “Because when you hire somebody and you put your trust in them and you give them the right tools, they really want to work. If you give them the right support, people want to work.”

People are increasingly upfront with their employers about their needs for being successful and productive in the workplace, said Rewari, noting the Mental Health Commission of Canada will be launching an employer toolkit focused on accommodation in 2019.

Read: Time to get to work on measuring absenteeism due to mental health

The toolkit will be designed to take HR professionals through the steps of assessing their workplace for its strengths and weaknesses around accommodating employees with mental-health issues. “And if an accommodation request comes in, how do they understand the business case for the organization under those different categories of costs and benefits? How do they understand the business case so they can show leadership to say, ‘No, this individual really needs to stay here and we can do this and it won’t cost a lot of money,’” said Rewari.

For most people with a disability, accommodations cost employers $500 or less, she added.

Read more coverage from the 2018 Mental Health Summit.