‘Many of the strongest employers have started to pay more attention to the mental health impact of the pandemic as they were infection management and health and safety concerns’
Even though the economy is opening up and life during the COVID-19 pandemic is slowly getting back to some form of normality, the mental health of Canadian workers remains low, finds a survey by Morneau Shepell.
Its latest edition of the Mental Health Index shows a 12-point decline from the benchmark number of 75 that was achieved before the coronavirus outbreak.
Anxiety (-14 points), depression (-13.9), work productivity (-13.5), optimism (-12.3) and isolation (-11.9) are cited as the biggest factors in the downgrade of mental health, according to the survey, and this illustrates an ongoing trend.
“We haven’t seen all that much movement: April was minus 12, May was minus 12; even with the reopening we are seeing June being close as minus 11,” says Paula Allen, senior vice-president of research analytics and innovation at Morneau Shepell in Toronto. “It’s definitely a continuing issue, it’s not just a point-in-time issue, and everybody adapts and goes forward. We’re definitely seeing something that we as individuals and businesses and governments need to pay attention to.”
Employer support makes a difference
The level of mental health support an employer provides to employees can make a difference as more than one-third (34 per cent) of respondents say that their employer has been supporting employee mental health inconsistently, poorly or very poorly during the pandemic. Scores for this group were -17.2 for those who say that mental health was supported inconsistently, -17.7 for those who say poor support and -26.3 for very poor support.
This compares to -10.4 for those who say their mental health was supported somewhat well and -1.0 for very well, finds the survey done between April 30 and May 11, of 3,000 respondents.
As the country continues to reopen, respondents that felt unsupported cited areas that employers could provide support, including clear guidance on how to prevent spreading or getting the virus (27 per cent) and support to deal with anxiety (23 per cent).
For HR departments, providing ongoing and regular updates about what benefit plans can offer is key to providing better support for workers.
“It’s 100 per cent clear that the way an employer supports their employees during this time absolutely matters. We know from previous research that 84 per cent of Canadians believe that their employer and their experience with their workplace makes a difference in terms of their mental health. You can help it or it can hinder it,” says Allen.
And a lot of employers have stepped up, she says.
“They’ve promoted the EAP [employee assistance program], they’ve expanded it to groups that didn’t have it before, they’re developing corporate cultures where people are checking in with each other, they’re having forums and sessions where they’re talking about mental health and resilience through the pandemic,” says Allen.
“Many of the strongest employers have really started to pay as much if not more attention to mental health impact of the pandemic, as they were the infection management and health and safety concerns, and that is making a difference.”
Meanwhile, another recent survey showed that alcohol and cannabis usage has risen during the pandemic, and almost half of other Canadians surveyed by felt “very concerned” about their mental health.