Mental Health in the Workplace

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, one in five Canadians experienced mental health problems, but today, approximately 50% of Canadians say their mental health has worsened due to COVID-19.  Mental health can have a serious impact on a business.  Unfortunately, disorders like anxiety and depression often go undetected for months or years as they are more challenging to pinpoint.

One of the best ways to create a culture that supports mental health is to ensure people experience their jobs in a meaningful and purposeful way. This can be achieved by giving employees autonomy and resources. If a team experiences support and independence, and that they are trusted to do what they ought to do, they will generally be happier at work, which will reduce the risk of mental health problems.

It is also important that managers do not check out from their employees. People need guidance and direction from a leader.  Checking in with employees and remaining approachable is key.

How Employers Can Get Involved

While tackling mental health can be challenging, employers and HR professionals are in a powerful position to help change attitudes and offer a support system. Here are some tangible ways you can help your employees:

Increase Awareness: Give employees access to education and resources like The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) which offers services by phone, in person and through e-counselling.  Companies can also develop their own initiatives and programs like posters and available literature regarding things like anxiety and depression.

Offer Training to Managers: Provide opportunities for managers to attend relevant training to support staff living with mental health problems and the well-being of all staff.  Part of managing people well is  being able to decode what makes each of your employees distinct and how to manage their uniqueness.

Encourage Work-Life Balance: Work-life balance is an essential aspect of a healthy work environment.  What flexible work options could you consider? Are workloads fair?  Are deadlines reasonable? Maintaining work-life balance helps reduce stress and helps prevent burnout in the workplace.

Develop Mental Health Policies: Developing mental health policies is a huge opportunity to safeguard your employee’s wellbeing. For example, do you have policies to help prevent discrimination (including bullying and harassment) or prevent stigma around depression in the workplace? Just as we look to provide a safe workplace for employee’s physical safety, mental health risks should be considered as well.  See the Canada Mental Health Council at for more information.

Treat People Fairly: Fairness is treating people like they want and deserve, rather than the same. For example, forcing everyone in your team to work in noisy or loud environments will suit the extraverts but tax the introverts. If your employees share your values and preferences, it will create a climate of low diversity and inclusion, where as people who feel different, feel excluded and marginalized, all of which puts them at risks of health problems.

Monitor Employee Engagement: Engagement is the best single metric of organizational well-being. When people are engaged, they are enthusiastic, positive, and proud to be a member of the organization.  In contrast, when people are disengaged, they are at higher risk of burnout, stress, and alienation, all of which worsen people’s mental health.

Now, more than ever, it is critical to educate employees about mental health resources to avoid burnout, mental breakdowns and reduce suicide risk. Companies who invest in the mental health of their people and foster open dialogue about mental health issues will also be creating a positive workplace and a place where people want to work. It is a win-win for both employer and employee.