Extreme weather takes toll on workplace absenteeism, disability claims, study finds

Alongside its financial impact, extreme weather takes a toll on absenteeism, mental health and disability claims, according to a new study by the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation at the University of Waterloo.

The research, funded by Manulife Financial Corp. and Intact Financial Corp., looked at homeowners in Burlington, Ont., after a storm in August 2014 left some 3,500 homes flooded. In the case of 56 per cent of working households that experienced basement flooding, at least one person took time off from their job, missing an average of seven days. That amounts to 10 times the provincial monthly average for working days missed in households that didn’t experience flooding, noted the report.

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Significant stress and worry related to flooding remained for months and even years, said Dana Decent, manager at the Intact Centre, at an event introducing the study in Toronto on Monday. She noted almost half of the flood victims surveyed were worried three years later any time it rained, compared to 11 per cent of those who had never experienced a flood.

Also speaking at the launch of the study, Georgia Pomaki, leader of mental-health specialists at Manulife, said she has seen a connection between disability claims and extreme weather over the past 10 years. Such events can lead to the onset of a new mental illness, particularly post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as flareups of existing mental-health issues and stress-related conditions such as arthritis, she noted.

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During a time of crisis, it’s important for employers and plan sponsors to remind workers of their employee assistance program, including how to access it, what it includes and how it can help, said Pomaki.

“In the long term as well, being able to provide your employees with increased coverage for psychotherapy or other mental-health services that they access over time, in the long run, [can help] because we see some of the effects are really long term,” she said.

Employers can also support their employees by offering financial planning as a benefit, added Pomaki.

“If the employer is able to provide financial planning benefits so that their employees are better prepared financially for unpredictable events, that will definitely mitigate a lot of the stress.”

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