Workplace mental health: Defining responsibility and best practices

5 min | Louisa Benedicto | Article | Managing a team Workforce management

A woman wearing a blue shirt sits in front of her laptop. In one hand she holds her glasses and with the other she squeezes the bridge of her nose in frustration.

The Hays Barometer Report has brought to light a troubling reality: less than half of the professional workforce views their mental health and well-being in a positive light. There is a palpable gap between the level of support that employers believe they are offering and the support that employees perceive they are receiving. Despite 72% of employers claiming an increased emphasis on mental health and well-being within their organizations, a mere 26% of professionals agree with this assessment.

Such a stark contrast underscores the pressing need for initiatives to mitigate the growing concerns surrounding mental health. It raises an essential inquiry: who should bear the responsibility for mental wellness in the workplace?

Understanding mental health in today’s work environment

In Canada’s current economic climate, marked by inflation and geopolitical shifts, the well-being of employees is increasingly at stake. With inflation rates soaring, financial stress and uncertainty have become prevalent concerns, affecting the mental health of Canadian workers. A study indicates that inflation is a leading cause of declining mental health among Canadians.

The transition to more flexible work arrangements post-COVID-19 has not alleviated stress levels. In fact, the Canada Hays Salary Guide and Hiring Trends 2024 highlights that 55% of employees are feeling more stressed than the previous year, with 46% feeling unmotivated. This underscores the need for a renewed focus on mental health strategies in the workplace to support employees through these challenging economic times.

Making the case for employer involvement

In the current Canadian work environment, it is widely anticipated that leaders will take an active role in supporting and being accountable for their team’s mental health.

This perspective is reinforced by findings from the Hays Barometer study, where 94% of employers acknowledge their part in this endeavor, with most accepting either a ‘significant’ or ‘moderate’ degree of responsibility for the mental well-being of their staff.

The advantages of employer support for employee mental health

Employers are crucial in fostering and maintaining mental health at work. The benefits for employers are undeniable, with supported and satisfied employees tending to:

  • Stay with the company longer
  • Have fewer unexpected absences
  • Show greater levels of productivity and innovation

A resilient workforce that can effectively handle stress is more likely to perform optimally under any conditions.

The ethical and legal imperatives for mental health in Canadian workplaces

In Canada, the ethical responsibility of employers to support mental health in the workplace is paramount. With one in five Canadians experiencing a mental health problem or illness each year, it is crucial for employers to cultivate a supportive environment that addresses these issues. It is not only a moral obligation but also an investment in the well-being and productivity of their workforce.

Legal requirements for Canadian employers: Mental health

Canadian employers are legally obligated to ensure a psychologically safe work environment. This includes accommodating employees with mental health conditions, which may be recognized as disabilities under human rights legislation. Employers must take proactive steps to prevent psychological harm and provide reasonable accommodations to support employees’ mental health needs. This commitment to mental health is essential for fostering a healthy, resilient, and productive workplace.

Well-being initiatives as talent attraction

Support for mental health and well-being is increasingly recognized as a vital component of employee benefits that resonates deeply with staff. In the quest to attract and retain the best talent, employers must look beyond conventional benefit packages. Today’s professionals are placing greater emphasis on what truly matters in their personal lives, with physical and mental health taking centre stage. Transparency and sincerity about the mental health support provided are essential for employers aiming to attract and maintain a dedicated workforce.

The 2024 Hays Salary Guide offers insights into the key drivers shaping the world of work, including where employees’ mental health and wellbeing currently stands. Download your copy here

Employee engagement in promoting workplace well-being

Employees play a crucial role in cultivating a positive and healthy work atmosphere. It’s vital for employees to take charge of their own physical and mental health, as their work life constitutes a significant portion of their overall life. Nonetheless, work-related stress can sometimes upset the balance between professional and personal life.

To enhance the mental health initiatives introduced by employers, employees should:

  • Be proactive in learning and applying methods to maintain mental health at work
  • Regularly participate in activities aimed at reducing stress
  • Communicate with their managers if they are feeling overwhelmed

Additionally, employees should follow the health and safety guidelines provided by their employers, such as taking regular breaks and incorporating physical activities like ‘walk-and-talk’ meetings into their routine. These practices not only help manage stress but also contribute to mental well-being.

Actively looking after one’s mental health at work is not just good for personal well-being; it’s also crucial for career development and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Joint efforts for mental health in the workplace

The responsibility for mental health and well-being in the workplace is shared between employers and employees. Employers are responsible for developing and enforcing comprehensive policies and programs that support mental health. In turn, employees are encouraged to engage with these programs.

  • Employers must make the mental health and well-being of their employees a top priority by taking active steps to improve it and by encouraging employee involvement in related programs.
  • Employees should complement their employer’s efforts by practicing self-care and mental health strategies at work. Such a cooperative approach ensures that mental health management becomes a core aspect of the company’s culture, benefiting everyone involved.

Mental health and well-being are integral to our lives. It’s crucial to take proactive steps to maintain a healthy work-life balance so we may thrive in our personal and professional lives and avoid falling into burnout.

About this author

Louisa Benedicto
SVP, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion – Americas

Louisa is Senior Vice President of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I), Corporate Social Responsibility, and Sustainability at Hays – covering the Americas region including Canada, the U.S., and Latin American Countries. She specializes in DE&I, enabling our clients to implement best practices that ensure everyone gets a fair opportunity in the recruitment process.

Connect with Louisa.

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