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Memo to leaders: Supporting mental wellness at work builds resiliency

February 27, 2023
By Lisa McGuire

Photo: stokkete/Adobe Stock

Through the pandemic, many leaders have felt the impact of fatigue, stress, depression and other mental health challenges on the physical health and work performance of their already stretched teams.

Increasingly, leaders are coming to appreciate that post-pandemic economic recovery depends on a mentally healthy workforce that can cope with frequent, and often unexpected, change.

Mental Health Commission of Canada statistics highlight the scope and impact of the problem. With 47 per cent of working Canadians considering work to be the most stressful part of their day, psychological health problems have become the leading cause of disability in Canada. The cost to Canada’s economy is now approaching $51 billion per year — with $20 billion coming from work-related causes.

On the flip side, research shows psychologically healthy and safe workplaces experience fewer lost-time injuries, have more engaged employees and higher retention rates, and have more successful return-to-work programs for injured workers. An effective and successfully implemented workplace mental health program drives profit, productivity, and staff retention — signaling the value the employer places on the well-being of its team members.


Clearly, in 2023, workplace mental health needs to remain a priority for every business leader.

Safe working conditions safeguard physical, mental health

According to the 2021 Priorities for Business Leaders, a whitepaper by Oasis Paychex HR that surveyed 300 business leaders, employee mental health and well-being is increasingly at risk with chronic exposure to occupational stress.

Assessing and addressing psychological risk is a key skillset for anyone tasked with identifying hazards and managing risk. If someone is experiencing poor mental health and increased psychological stressors, it may be reflected in a change in performance.

The 2009 BC Human Rights Tribunal landmark judgment for Bertrend vs. Golder Associates found that:

When an employer discovers that an employee is suffering from depression, they have a duty to accommodate that employee to a reasonable degree. The existence of such a condition can be reasonably inferred from observation and from the testimony of employees themselves, even in the absence of medical evidence. (Emphasis added.)

Even though this case specifically references depression, the same could be applied to any mental health challenge or stressor. To date, BC and several provinces have added violence and harassment explicitly to their Workplace Compensation Acts.

What makes a successful mental health program

Because the employers’ duty of care now includes both physical and mental health, leaders need to be intentional about creating a positive workplace culture where workers feel comfortable talking to about their mental health.

Every organization is unique. Businesses might be large or small, may require shift work or have staff working both on-site and remotely. Understanding the specific business needs is critical to tailoring effective mental health supports and wellness strategies to support and benefit the entire team.

Nearly every successfully implemented mental health strategy is long-term and impacts employees at every level. Ensure that these include a response plan for traumatic events–such as accidents and fatalities at the workplace or even deaths of coworkers–as well as ongoing strategies to promote general mental health wellness. By integrating mental wellness strategies into a company’s existing occupational health and safety programs, it will encourage behavioural change and help expand the thinking of managers, workers, and OHS team beyond physical safety.

By ensuring that every people leader in the organization receives mental health training, leaders are equipping them with the tools to recognize and respond to the needs of team members experiencing psychological stressors. And by developing a regular schedule of review, they can stay on top of what’s working and identify gaps in current mental health and wellness strategy and programs.

Mental health organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, along with provincial health and safety associations such as the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC, offer a wealth of resources, information, training, and support to help businesses adapt to these emerging needs.

Ensuring a psychosocially safe and healthy workplace is key to a business’ competitiveness, sustainability, and long-term growth.

Lisa McGuire is the CEO of the Manufacturing Safety Alliance of BC in Chilliwack, B.C. This article originally appeared in the Winter 2023 issue of OHS Canada. For more information, visit https://safetyalliancebc.ca/

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