In any given week, more than half a million Canadians miss work due to mental illness. This absenteeism, along with presenteeism — in which employees come to work despite feeling unwell — results in profound productivity loss in Canadian workplaces.

“The real costs of not addressing psychological health and safety in the workplace will be in terms of time, effort, and resources to deal with issues such as conflict, morale issues, performance problems, and absence from work,” says Mary Ann Baynton, Program Director of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Around $51 billion is lost to the Canadian economy each year because of mental illness. Put simply, ignoring your staff’s mental health is bad for business.

How to recognize an issue

“I often hear managers ask ‘How do we know if we have a problem?’ and I always tell them to look at their data,” says Sarika Gundu, National Director of the Workplace Mental Health Program at the Canadian Mental Health Association. “Look at trends in their Employee Assistance Program, prescription drug use, employee surveys, disability rates, and absenteeism rates.”

"Ask the question: How will this affect the psychological health and safety of our employees?"

Unlike their forward-thinking counterparts, many managers do not study the data, and many workplaces lack even a basic mental health policy. “Look at psychological health and safety as an integral part of all your operations, including leadership mentality, hiring, training, promoting, and redeploying workers,” says Baynton.

Addressing mental health in the workplace

In Canada, an excellent template for creating a positive mental health workplace is the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, which outlines a systematic approach to developing and sustaining a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.

Baynton echos sentiments from the Standard, in that “whenever organizations are making a decision, developing a strategy, implementing a policy, or making changes, ask the question: How will this affect the psychological health and safety of our employees? Asking that question alone can have significant impact on workplace processes, policies, and interactions.”