COVID-19 is pushing Canadian workers to mental exhaustion

Mental health index shows employees' decreased willingness to access care despite ongoing impact on their well-being

COVID-19 is pushing Canadian workers to mental exhaustion

Six months into the pandemic, and Canadian workers are exhibiting signs of strained mental health – and for some, the problem could devolve into a self-feeding spiral.

In its latest monthly Mental Health Index report, Morneau Shepell found that as of September, the index was 10 points below its pre-pandemic level of 75 points, following an uneven pattern that included modest increases from April to July, a decline in August, and a recovery to the July score of -10 last month.

Looking at the sub-scores that compose the index, the survey found deep declines in optimism (-12.3) and work productivity (-10.8). Scores for depression (-11.8), anxiety (-11.5), and isolation (-9.7) also reflected a trend toward the worse. Financial risk was in positive territory (3.1), though it has declined after several months of improvement.

“The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is well underway, with case counts rapidly increasing and many provinces seriously assessing the need to revert back to previous lockdown measures,” Morneau Shepell President and CEO Stephen Liptrap said in a statement. “As we look to the coming months, it’s critical that governments and organizations recognize the risk that the impending isolation will have on Canadians’ wellbeing and take proactive action.”

The report found that changes in workplace and routine have weighed significantly on Canadian workers’ mental state. Employees who have been pushed to work from home due to the pandemic showed the worst index scores (-11.4), followed by those who recently returned to the jobsite (-11). Relatively milder declines were seen for those who either remained at the worksite (-7.1) or remote workers who continued to work from home (-8.6).

Employee productivity has also taken a hit. Nearly four in 10 (36%) of employees said it was getting harder for them to feel motivated to work, and just over one third (34%) said they’re finding it more difficult to concentrate on work compared to before the pandemic.

“Motivation is impacted by ongoing strain,” said Paula Allen, senior vice president of research, analytics and innovation. “A decline in motivation suggests emotional exhaustion.”

Allen highlighted two driving forces behind Canadian workers’ exhaustion. Many are experiencing decreased fun, social contact, and exploration – activities other than rest that must act as a counterbalance to work. Aside from that, she said some workers are getting exhausted from work because of greater workloads, concerns about job security, or mental and situational distractions that they have to deal with on top of their actual job.

And while Canadian employees are confronted with declines in mental health as well as physical health risks, many have become less inclined to access care. More than a quarter of individuals surveyed said the pandemic has made them less likely to take advantage of healthcare for their physical (29%) and mental health needs (24%) compared to before the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset.

“When life is disrupted, we are more likely to ignore important aspects of self-care. We might put things on hold or somehow think everything will automatically get better when things are less disrupted,” Allen said. “Although Canadians are experiencing significant change in all areas of life, accessing physical and mental health support must remain a constant.”