Improving employee mental health among top HR priorities for 2019

Improving the mental health of employees ranks ahead of physical health and wellness as a top priority for human resources leaders for 2019, according to a new survey by Morneau Shepell Ltd.

The survey, which polled nearly 400 Canadian organizations, found 48 per cent of HR leaders view improving the mental health of their workforce as a top priority, narrowing passing physical health and wellness (47 per cent).

Some 67 per cent of respondents cited improving employee engagement as the top priority, followed by employee attraction and retention (59 per cent). Other top priorities for the year ahead include reducing employee turnover (43 per cent), streamlining the administration of HR programs (41 per cent) and reducing short-term disability costs (34 per cent). 

Read: Workplace stress a leading cause of mental-health issues: survey

“The strong focus on engagement, attracting and retaining employees and reducing turnover demonstrates a strong link to a tight labour market,” said Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions at Morneau Shepell, in a news release. “It’s important that organizations determine the factors that are keeping employees engaged and committed to their organization.

“One of these factors — which increased in importance in this year’s survey — is prioritization of employee mental health. By determining the processes needed to improve employee well-being, organizations can reduce employee burnout and ultimately, turnover.”

The survey also looked at issues that could potentially affect Canadian workplaces in 2019, such as the legalization of cannabis and the #MeToo movement.

More than half (52 per cent) of HR leaders said they plan to update policies around substance abuse to manage marijuana in the workplace in the next 12 to 18 months, while 48 per cent said they plan to train managers to manage cannabis in the workplace in that timeframe. Meanwhile, 45 per cent said there have no plans to introduce training.

 Read: A pot primer for plan sponsors

“The biggest issue that employers will need to address regarding the upcoming legalization of cannabis is determining the appropriate application of policy and process regarding impairment in the workplace and the distinction between recreational and medical use,” said Allen. “Managers need to be trained effectively. As well, employees need to be educated. There are many misconceptions about cannabis that lead to an underestimation of the risk to personal health and well-being in certain situations.”

In relation to the #MeToo movement, 84 per cent of HR leaders said they have zero tolerance policies in place in relation to harassment in the workplace. On an organizational level, 83 per cent of respondents said they foster a culture where employees can feel confident in reporting harassment or bullying behaviour and 79 per cent said they have senior leadership on board with eliminating such behaviour.

“We found that more than half (60 per cent) of employers effectively provided managers with the clear tools and resources to address negative behaviours in the workplace, with one-quarter (25 per cent) planning to implement processes in the next 12 to 18 months,” said Allen.

Read: A workplace guide for the #MeToo era

Looking at retirement readiness, the survey found that 73 per cent of HR leaders are concerned about the financial preparedness of their employees for retirement and 32 per cent are concerned with how well employees understand decumulation.

When it comes to the processes HR leaders have put in place or are intending to put in place in the next year to support employees’ transition into retirement, 90 per cent cited providing better educational material and seminars and 87 per cent cited providing online planning tools.

The enhancements to the Canada Pension Plan, which take effect Jan. 1, 2019, is on the radar of some organizations, with the survey finding 22 per cent of employers plan to implement changes to their defined contribution plans or are planning changes in the next 12 to 18 months.

Lastly, the survey found HR leaders expect salaries in Canada to rise by an average of 2.6 per cent next year.

Read: Just 17% of employers starting plans for CPP, QPP changes