Concerns surrounding returning to the office and workplace coronavirus vaccination policies are negatively affecting Canadian workers’ mental health and well-being, according to LifeWorks Inc.’s latest mental-health index.

Although July’s mental-health score held steady at negative 10.1, the same as for June 2021, it was the 16th consecutive month in a row that the index revealed a negative mental-health score among Canadians.

The survey found workplace vaccination policies were top of mind for the respondents, with 47 per cent saying they want their employer to mandate the coronavirus vaccine at work, while 33 per cent said they don’t. Those surveyed who were in favour of vaccine mandates had a mental-health score of negative 9.1, while those who weren’t scored a negative 9.7 and those who were uncertain (22 per cent) had the lowest score at negative 12.5.

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“The pandemic created a lot of fear and uncertainty and right now we are seeing new fears and uncertainties as we are planning to return to the workplace,” said Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total well-being at LifeWorks, in a press release. “As employers are considering their return-to-workplace plans and policies, they should be aware that employees need to understand the consideration and support for their well-being as a part of the plan and the tangible actions the employer is taking and that they can take.”

The survey found nearly an equal percentage of people want to work onsite full time (35 per cent), part time (33 per cent) or work from home full time (32 per cent). However, eight per cent of respondents said they wanted to work from home full time to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus and their mental-health score was negative 9.6.

Among respondents who said they want to continue working from home, nine per cent prefer this option to avoid tension or conflict with their managers (two per cent) or co-workers (three per cent) or to avoid in-person interaction with customers (four per cent). These respondents had some of the lowest mental-health scores (negative 28.2, negative 19.2 and negative 19.5, respectively).

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Notably, for 16 per cent of respondents, separation of home and work was the most important reason why they want to work onsite some or all of the time. Only one per cent reported a desire to return to the worksite to collaborate with or get support from their manager, while seven per cent wanted to go to the office to collaborate with and/or get support from co-workers. Respondents who said they wanted to return to the office to avoid tension at home (one per cent) had a mental-health score of negative 19.4, respondents who wanted a change of scenery (13 per cent) had a score of negative 14.9 and those who said they wanted to feel less isolated (11 per cent) had a score of negative 13.1.

As well, 35 per cent of women respondents said they’d prefer to work from home full time, compared to 30 per cent of men. Meanwhile, 38 per cent of men said they’d prefer to work in office full time, compared to 32 per cent of women. Nearly an equal proportion of women (33 per cent) and men (32 per cent) said they’d like to work from home part time. Respondents without children were 35 per cent more likely than parents to indicate that being full time at their worksite would be their ideal work situation. Additionally, 35 per cent of women indicated they’d prefer to work from home full time to prioritize personal well-being, compared to 30 per cent of men.

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The survey also found 63 per cent of respondents feel the culture of their organization supports their personal well-being; this group had a mental-health score of negative 6.6. Just 13 per cent of respondents said the opposite, with a score of negative 22.3, while 24 per cent said they were unsure and had a score of negative 16.8.

“Personal well-being has taken on new meaning over the past year with remote work enabling a sense of autonomy, redefined work-life integration and new prioritization of mental health,” said Stephen Liptrap, LifeWorks’ president and chief executive officer, in the release.

“Many employees, however, continue struggling to find the right blend of professional and personal well-being and, in many cases, are turning to employers for support. As we navigate return-to-workplace plans, it is critical that organizations look at employees as individuals beyond work and build a culture that supports personal needs in all working environments.”

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