Is Canada seeing a K-shaped recovery in employee mental health?

Study highlights Canadian workers' continuing struggle to maintain their health and well-being two years into pandemic

Is Canada seeing a K-shaped recovery in employee mental health?

In its 2021 Wellness Report, Manulife has highlighted how the pandemic is weighing on employee health and emphasizes that two years after the outbreak, Canadian workers are still struggling to maintain their health and well-being.

"Employee mental health patterns could be K-shaped as we move through the next phase of the pandemic," Dr. Georgia Pomaki, Director of Mental Health Best Practices at Manulife, said in a statement announcing the study.

Dr. Pomaki said that while one segment of employees may be excited about reopening and returning to the office, another group may feel overwhelmed by the idea as they continue to be saddled with mental health challenges and significant fatigue.

“Organizations need to consider both groups to design effective and supportive return to office programs," Dr. Pomaki said.

According to the report, health-related absences and presenteeism in 2021 cost the economy 16% of working hours, or 41.2 days per employee per year. At least one work-related mental health risk factor affects 48% of employees.

The survey also pointed to mental fatigue as the number one reason employees are not making healthy choices. The most significant risk factor for mental illness was a lack of work-life balance, and the number one factor affecting employees' sleep was work-related stress.

These findings suggest that, in 2022 and beyond, companies should consider putting a greater emphasis on culture and wellness programs, especially as large numbers of employees make their return to Canadian offices in the near future.

According to the report, companies with the best workplace cultures and wellness efforts also have the best performance across key health indicators, which cements the positive link between a strong workplace culture and employee health.

"The Manulife Wellness Report shows us that mental health supports like virtual psychotherapy, Employee Assistance Programs, and mindfulness sessions translate into employee health and well-being improvements," said Dr. Pomaki. "Organizations can help employees by removing barriers to accessing these benefits, increasing communications about available products and services, and helping reduce the stigma around their use.

“Given what we have been living through the past two years, if there's ever a time to accelerate these efforts, the time is now," Dr. Pomaki said.