Mental-health related absence, disability still major challenges for Canadian employers: survey

The majority of Canadian employers intend to prioritize the improvement of workplace mental health over the next three years to help manage ballooning costs, according to a new survey by Willis Towers Watson.

Most of the 150 survey respondents indicated that mental-health issues generate major costs to their organization, largely due to disability, absenteeism, loss of productivity and costs associated with medications and psychological counselling. 

According to the survey, most of the current efforts to boost employee mental health are aimed at stress management, mental-health training and supporting financial well-being. In fact, 40 per cent of respondents provide support and coaching for financial well-being. About a third (36 per cent) offer programs for resilience or managing stress, while 50 per cent are planning to introduce such programs in the next three years.

Read: Millennials, managers more likely to report mental-health struggles

However, the survey also shows workplace absenteeism and disability related to mental-health issues still seem to be daunting challenges for employers. While more than half of respondents had taken action to include health and well-being components into a larger program, more than three-quarters don’t believe the programs are effective in managing absenteeism and disability costs. And some 81 per cent don’t believe the mental-health programs they offer are being used in an optimal way by their employees.

“While progress is being made to increase awareness of mental health and provide programs that improve employees’ stress management and resilience, more work is needed to control costs associated with employee absence,” said Julia Graham, senior consultant and leader of the Canadian absence and disability management practice at Willis Towers Watson.

“Our survey shows that employers have not yet tackled the critically important issue of having a mental-health disability case management model to address casual absences or disability claims.”

Wendy Poirier, growth leader for the health and benefits practice at Willis Towers Watson, believes the solution lies in changing the culture around health and well-being. “The gaps in employer strategies to mitigate some of the most significant impacts of mental-health issues is surprising,” she said.

“Absence and disability costs, in addition to lost productivity due to presenteeism, far outweigh pharmacy and paramedical costs. To effectively manage mental-health costs in the future, organizations must begin to develop a broader, more holistic strategy that includes building a culture of health and well-being that addresses the varying needs of their employees and their families.”

Read: Looking to create a mental-health strategy? Ask your employees first