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Why designing mental health benefits for the modern workforce matters

August 16, 2021
By Marc Avaria

Some studies show that Canadian workers are increasingly considering leaving or switching their jobs. (Maridav/Adobe Stock)

Fostering a culture that supports the mental health and well-being of employees has always been important.

Fast forward to the realities of today and the heightened awareness around mental health brought on by COVID-19 — workplace mental health has become essential.

Incidents of mental health associated with the workplace are on the rise, while the cost of mental health for employers has grown over the last five to 10 years.

Research shows the associated cost of mental illness can consume up to 14 per cent of an organization’s net profits, according to data from Medaca Health Group, while the financial impact of the resulting absenteeism and presenteeism for Canadian companies is around $20 billion per year.


The economic impact is significant, and the human cost even more so.

A recent report found that 28 per cent of Canadian employees have thought about leaving their job, of which more than half say is due to increased mental stress and strain at work.

As we move into a post-pandemic world, employers will need to assess the mental health solutions they have in their toolkit to provide the support employees expect in and out of the workplace.

Differing needs, expectations

Canada’s working population now spans five generations working side by side, each with differing health-care needs and expectations.

At Medavie Blue Cross, we have seen these differing needs reflected in the number of disability claims and types of benefit claims. When we look closer at claims data from February 2021, boomers have the highest drug benefit spend (48 per cent) compared to gen X (27 per cent).

Additionally, the types of drugs differ between generation — for instance, anti-depressants are higher among millennials.

It’s time to rethink mental health benefits

Workplaces play an essential role in promoting openness, understanding and support around mental health. As different generations use benefit plans in different ways, designing flexible plans with a customizable approach is paramount.

Today’s workforce is more transient than ever, and health benefits can be deal makers or breakers when negotiating offers of employment.

According to the April 2021 LifeWorks Mental Health Index almost half of Canadians (45 per cent) feel the need for mental health support.

This is especially true of younger generations who want to manage their health care and wellness on their own terms — now more than ever, this demographic is looking for flexibility, optionality, ease of access and technology when it comes to services that are treating their mental health.

With the rise of virtual care and other technologies, many mental health services are available to help employees receive care anytime, anywhere.

From the privacy of their own home, or even during working hours, employees can access services such as internet-enabled cognitive behavioural therapy (iCBT), pharmacogenetic testing, as well as a broader range of mental health practitioners including social workers, psychotherapists and psycho-educators.

To support the growing need for mental health resources in a post-pandemic world, Medavie Blue Cross offers services such as Connected Care which is providing the Canadian workforce with mental health services including digital therapy, online doctors, and mindfulness activities, all of which they can easily access from anywhere at any time.

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to challenge paradigms and reimagine the future workplace.

Offering flexible benefit plans to support mental, physical and emotional wellness is fundamentally important to reframing mental health as a force for positive change and not a problem that has to be solved.

Marc Avaria is vice-president of product & disability management at Medavie Blue Cross in Toronto.


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