How to support struggling employees

'The cost related to mental health disabilities is much higher than the costs related to physical health disabilities'

How to support struggling employees

If employees genuinely care about the workforce, there is no better way to prove this by offering a robust set of benefits and supports, especially for workers’ emotional wellbeing.

Recently, three experts who want to promote the importance of wellness held a round table event that probed this issue, hosted by Canadian HR Reporter and sponsored by TELUS Health.

The three discussed the challenges for employers in offering supports with the rise of mental health issues and the gaps in care that are creating obstacles to wellness – along with providing solutions such as workplace training, empathetic leadership, and improved partnerships with providers.

Cheryl Kerrigan, chief people officer at Bluecat Networks, Roee Ben-Eli, RN, director of strategic programs at TELUS Health, and Katy Kamkar, clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), held an insightful hour-long session.

“It’s becoming the responsibility of the employer. We see employers more and more stepping up to cover the costs of these supports or suffer the consequences of decreased productivity,” says Ben-Eli.

COVID effect

The pandemic ramped things up tenfold for employers, he says.

“I believe employers are quickly realizing how much of an issue this is, and how much it is costing them in the long term not to have health-care support and solutions in place for employees and by not optimizing, they are not really bringing to bear the full potential of their employee base.”

The most common mental health conditions are clinical depression, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and trauma- and stress-related disorders – especially post-traumatic stress disorder – which are increasingly being recognized as part of workplace mental-health prevention and intervention, says Kamkar, who is also an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry and faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto.

“The cost related to mental health disabilities is much higher than the costs related to physical health disabilities. One, because of the high risk of recurrence [with a mental health issue], which is seven times more likely to recur; [and two,] because of the longer duration.”


At BlueCat, benefits continue to evolve. The company has beefed up its mental health spending, along with providing wellness days, mental-health first-aid training, a mental health committee, training for leaders, mindfulness and meditation, wellness challenges, and lunch-and-learns.

“We’re making it a part of our daily conversation,” says Kerrigan. “[It’s about] making it a part of who you are as an organization — your culture, your values — and putting programs into place to really support that.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently put out a guideline that some experts say will greatly advance the conversation at job sites with “evidence-based recommendations.”

Along with providing training and support education so people can do their work, it’s important to have personal resources, says Kamkar.

“If I’m able to learn self-emotion skills, self-regulation skills, managing my own stress… the concept of coping flexibility, the concept of care … any of those personal resources, then we know it can help to boost my job resources and better cope with the work demands as well.”

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