By Mary-Lou MacDonald

On any given day, 500,000 Canadians are unable to go to work because of mental health issues.1 That’s equivalent to the entire population of a large city – like Hamilton, Ontario or Quebec City, Quebec – staying home for the day.

In fact, mental health issues have become so prevalent that they are creating enormous costs for employers, too. From an economic perspective, mental health problems have led to:

  • 30% of short- and long-term disability claims,
  • $50 billion annual cost to the economy, and
  • $6 billion in lost productivity in the workplace.2

With so many hours spent at work, it is imperative that employers begin to address psychological health and safety within the workplace.

That’s why the Mental Health Commission of Canada developed a set of guidelines, tools and resources in 2013 to help organizations promote mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace provides support and resources for organizations seeking to create healthy workplaces.

Although the standard is voluntary, there are a significant number of organizations using it as a guideline. In fact, a strong employee health and wellness program is attractive to employees of all ages and life stages.

Employers can lead the way to removing the stigma of mental health issues by increasing awareness and empowering employees to make healthy decisions. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Build a targeted, strategic program. When a health and wellness program is put together carefully and strategically, it hits all the high points. Strong wellness programs attract new talent and engage and retain existing talent within the organization.
  • Offer mental health supports on demand. When employees are in dire straits, they aren’t always sure what to do next. Consider on-demand AI supports to promote employee safety. Part of your program could be access to counselors or therapists 24/7, either online or by text or video. Providing a quiet, private space for confidential conversation or to destress is another simple yet very effective way to support employee mental health.
  • Support a happier, more creative workforce. Happy employees are loyal employees. In other words, when your employees aren’t bogged down by stress and anxiety, they are more productive. They aren’t using their work hours for non-work activities. Also, happy employees are less likely to look for work elsewhere – so it leads to lower turnover as well.

It can be overwhelming to try to build an employee health and wellbeing program from scratch. Consider these five tips to organize your effort and make it more authentic.

  • Start with leadership. Get your HR team – and the management team – on board by providing information on health and wellness and its impact on the bottom line. Let the data do the talking. Once the decision-makers understand the ripple effects, they will be more likely to support the initiative.
  • Provide training on mental health. Offer training on mental health, starting with those in the organization that lead people, so they may better understand the issues and have greater confidence in knowing when and how to provide support if necessary. This will also lead to an increase in their own self-awareness and a decrease of stigma.
  • Conduct an employee survey. Your employees know what they need. No doubt they have been considering services but can’t afford them (or won’t prioritize them) without an employee benefit. One caveat: Don’t conduct a survey if you don’t intend to use the information to build a program.
  • Involve your insurance broker. Ask your broker to review claims data for the previous year or two. This information can tell you what kinds of health struggles your workforce is experiencing, as well as whether there has been an uptick in certain types of claims.
  • Seek unconventional solutions. Address pain points or areas of need with solutions such as telemedicine or AI-based mental health services. Focus on flexibility and multiple ways of offering solutions in order to reach as many employees as possible.

Some HR professionals struggle with getting a program like this off the ground. The most important thing is to just get started.

Contact your HUB benefits consultant to find out how you and your business can get additional resources and support related to employee wellbeing.


1, 2 The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/what-we-do/workplace/national-standard.