Canadian workplaces invest a lot of time and money in the mental and physical health of their employees — and for good reason.Consider these statistics:
- Every year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental health-related issue or illness, and 34% of Canadians say stress was the main cause
- Nearly half of all working Canadians believe their work and their workplace are the most stressful parts of their days
- Employees are significantly more likely to make mistakes at work when they have slept for less than five hours or have been awake more than 16
The government has been actively developing programs to promote healthier Canadian workplaces since the early 2000s. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety are two organizations leading the way in this effort.
While these organizations were developed for Canadian workplaces, employers and facility managers (FMs) around the globe can benefit from their guidelines. Here are a few key takeaways.
Canadian Workplaces Are Proactive About Mental Health
Established in response to a proposal by the Canadian Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, the MHCC is committed to helping employers create and maintain mentally healthy workplaces. The mission of the agency is to “ensure that every person in Canada can go to work knowing their organization recognizes the importance of psychological health and safety in the workplace.”
In January 2013, the MHCC launched the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (commonly referred to as “The Standard”). The Standard is a set of guidelines and resources that provide employers a comprehensive framework for successfully promoting mental health at work. It defines the four essential elements for a systematic approach to creating and continuously improving a psychologically healthy and safe workplace:
- Identifying and removing workplace hazards and sources of unnecessary stress in the workplace
- Evaluating and mitigating workplace hazards that cannot be removed (for example, stressors from reasonable job demands).
- Implementing practices and processes that support mental health and wellness in the workplace.
- Establishing a culture that promotes psychological health in the workplace.
The MHCC regularly partners with the Conference Board of Canada to offer workshops on developing a mental health strategy. Here are a few tips from Bill Howatt, Ph.D., the Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity at The Conference Board of Canada, for developing a mental health strategy in the workplace.
- Get buy-in from the executive team by building a business case demonstrating that employee mental health has a direct financial impact via increased insurance premiums and lower productivity.
- Create a wellness committee composed of employees from multiple levels of the business to help create and promote a mental health policy.
- Ensure the practices and procedures of the mental health strategy align with messaging.
- Provide managers with mental health training and resources.
- Identify tangible metrics for data analysis and reporting and regularly review performance of the strategy.
- Use the results of your analysis to continuously improve your strategy.
- Regularly solicit employee feedback regarding the effectiveness of the strategy and ask for ways the strategy could be improved.
A Healthy Workplace Culture May Be More Important Than A Wellness Program
Fewer Canadian workplaces are offering corporate wellness programs along with their benefit plans. While 64 percent of workplaces offered wellness programs in 2013, only 41 percent offered them in 2018, according to the 2018 Sanofi Canada healthcare survey. However, 71 percent of benefit plan members still said they believe their workplace encourages health and wellness.
A wellness culture has a significant impact on employee satisfaction — possibly more so than wellness programs alone. Eighty-nine percent of survey respondents with a wellness culture in place reported being satisfied with their current jobs, compared to just 59 percent of those without one.
Although they appear to be losing popularity, workplace wellness programs can still have many benefits for both employees and employers.
In a 2018 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, the 688 Merck Canada employees who participated in a wellness program for one year experienced significant improvements in blood pressure and sleep quality. They also had lower levels of stress and fatigue.
For workplaces like Merck that do have wellness programs, healthy workplace culture is by far the greatest indicator in whether that program will be successful (according to 74 percent of survey respondents).
Facility Managers Play An Important Role In Employee Well-being
As the guardians of the workplace, facility managers play an important role in promoting both the mental and physical health of employees. They can make decisions about workplace design that support employee well-being, such as:
- Providing ample access to natural light— in a Future Workplace survey, 80 percent of employees in Canada and the U.S. said natural light improved their happiness and well-being
- Implementing an office design that encourages more movement (such as activity-based working and standing desks)
- Bringing natural elements like plants and wood into your workplace—research shows access to the outdoors or bringing the outdoors in (known as biophilia) improves employee health and wellness
- Working with HR to develop a flexible work policy—research on Canadian workplaces shows this increases job satisfaction, improves stress management and reduces absenteeism
- Performing preventive maintenance on HVAC systems to improve temperature control and air quality
- Providing healthy snacks and dining options if you have an employee cafeteria
- Ensuring employees have access to frictionless workplace technology that minimizes frustrations instead of adding to them
- Giving employees access to a workplace app that makes it easy for them to navigate the workplace, book rooms and submit service requests to make the office more comfortable
It’s no secret that when employees are mentally and physically healthy, they tend to be happier and more productive. Some aspects of wellness will always fall outside an employer’s control, but there are plenty of proactive steps workplace leaders can take.
Giving employees a well-designed workplace and flexibility to choose where, when and how they work is a great start.