The majority (68 per cent) of Canadian employees working at their job sites said they feel a greater sense of belonging and acceptance at work than those who work from home or in a hybrid workplace, according to LifeWorks Inc.’s latest mental-health index.

The index found isolation scores among those working exclusively from home are worse (negative 9.6) than those working in a hybrid model (negative 7.6) or in a physical job site (negative 7.3).

In addition, more than two-thirds (65 per cent) of respondents said they’ve felt a sense of belonging and acceptance at work during the past month. This group had the highest mental-health score (negative 3.1) and the best isolation score (negative 3.4) compared to those who were unsure or didn’t feel the same way.

Read: Workplace well-being, mandatory vaccinations affecting Canadians’ mental health: survey

“While remote or hybrid work offers flexibility and saves commuting time, there is a risk that people may feel less connection to their organizations and colleagues over time,” said Stephen Liptrap, LifeWorks’ president and chief executive officer, in a press release. “When transitioning to a virtual setting during the pandemic, many employees lost the spontaneity of conversations that they may have found invigorating.

“To ensure a successful return to the workplace, employers should consider innovative ways to lessen feelings of isolation and create a culture free from bias, regardless of work location. Connections and the social support they offer are important to well-being and we need to ensure that this is not lost.”

The survey also found more than half (54 per cent) of respondents reported doing their job when feeling unwell (physically or psychologically) at least one day per week. The mental-health scores among this group are significantly below those who reported never working while feeling unwell. That percentage was higher when looking specifically at working parents, with 64 per cent saying they’ve worked when feeling unwell at least one day per week.

Read: Uncertainty around return-to-work plans affecting employees’ mental health: report

Overall, the mental-health index showed a negative mental-health score among Canadians for the 17th consecutive month. However, at negative 9.7 compared to the pre-pandemic benchmark, it reached its highest point since the launch of the index in April 2020.

“We know that when people are feeling unwell, their productivity at work suffers,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total well-being at LifeWorks, in the release. “We also have clear data that indicates an organization’s culture of well-being and investments in workplace mental health make a difference in the overall health of the workforce.

“As we move forward in the next phase of the pandemic, there will be more change and added strain as a result. This is not the time to ease our focus on employee mental health and well-being. The need continues and the productivity risk is significant.”

Read: Index sees slight improvement in Canadians’ mental health in April: report