In this unprecedented time, it’s more evident the physical, psychological and financial components of health are all interconnected, said Charmaine Alexander, senior disability management advisor at Desjardins Insurance, during a webinar hosted by Benefits Canada.
Prior to the pandemic, in May 2018, Desjardins conducted a survey to measure these interactions to better understand how they affected one another. According to the survey, 83 per cent of people in good physical health said they could manage their financial stress and 73 per cent of financially healthy people reported positive mental health. Conversely, 43 per cent of people in poor physical health said they were experiencing difficulty managing financial stress and 61 per cent of financially unhealthy people reported negative mental health.
In March 2020, the coronavirus completely upended all aspects of individuals’ lives, noted Alexander, referencing a survey conducted in late April by the Angus Reid Institute, in which a third of Canadians reported they were doing well. But the other two-thirds told a different story.
Radical lifestyle changes have certainly taken a toll on physical health. For two months, Canadians were told to stay at home, she said, highlighting the results of the Angus Reid survey, which found 63 per cent of respondents reported watching more television, 22 per cent spent more time playing video games, 25 per cent were drinking more and four in 10 reported difficulty sleeping. The pandemic has also affected diet and activity levels, she added, referencing a study in France that found 57 per cent of people have gained weight during lockdown.
“Our role as insurers is to anticipate the consequences of all this — less physical activity, more alcohol, more calories and chronic lack of sleep. These are all the ingredients of a time bomb.”
On top of physical issues, employees are also dealing with their mental health. According to the Centre for Studies on Human Stress, the four main stress factors are novelty, unpredictability, threat to ego and sense of control, noted Alexander. It only takes one of these to trigger a stress reaction, she added, but since March, Canadians have been experiencing all four on a daily basis. As a result, 50 per cent of Canadians have reported a decline in their mental health.
Before the pandemic, 44 per cent of Canadians reported living paycheque to paycheque, she said. People have been hit hard by lost income and many didn’t have savings to fall back on. By the end of April, she added, one in three Canadians reported the situation had affected their ability to pay bills and meet basic needs.
Twenty-six per cent of Canadians are in mental and financial survival mode, with 25 per cent of them also reporting having trouble with their relationships at home, which means one in four Canadians aren’t doing well — for employers, this can lead to a drop in employment, engagement and productivity.
According to Alexander, teleworking usually boosts productivity by about 13 per cent, but things haven’t been normal for months now. Employers have had to adapt in order to meet employees’ new needs and expectations. “When we talk about managing with empathy — looking back at the timeline of events and their impact on management style — we saw that in March, phase one, the economy was put on hold, lockdown measures were introduced and the primary objective for both businesses and employees was survival.”
In April, phase two incited the need for security and guidance, she said, meaning employers had to show competence and reassure employees about their jobs by encouraging them to focus on their strengths and work within their comfort zone. “This shift to more compassionate management practices happened almost organically in some organizations. The key now is staying the course throughout this crisis as it becomes a long-term reality.”
In May, phase three meant people gradually adopted to their new routines and wanted to reconnect, said Alexander. Communications took on a less serious tone but remained empathetic, which is important, she added, because work relationships are a driver of workplace happiness, accounting for 45 per cent of overall job satisfaction.
Today, as Canadians prepare to enter phase four, individuals will reflect on how the crisis impacted their personal and professional lives, in addition to the support they received, she said. “Organizations should take this opportunity to reassess their values and fine tune their employer brand to develop a culture that’s stronger than ever. Their communications should convey authenticity, even if that means they’ve made a mistake.”
In phase five, companies will formalize new practices that have emerged over the past few months, such as teleworking, work-family balance and compassion, said Alexander. “I would say the pandemic has led organizations to take better care of their employees. The employers that weather the storm will be [the ones] that have risen to this challenge. . . . The introduction of heart into business is one of the only good things to come out of the coronavirus crisis.”
Find out what you missed by accessing the full webinar here.