Workers give Canadian employers higher marks for mental health support

But women, people of colour, working parents, and remote workers say support and culture lacking

Workers give Canadian employers higher marks for mental health support

Employers seem to be improving when it comes to catering to the mental health needs of employers, but there is room for improvement, according to a recent report.

Overall, employees give their employers a score of 6.6 out of 10 – up from the 4.4 score back in 2021. 

Meanwhile, there was virtually no change in how employers scored themselves on this subject (7.5 out of 10), finds Lighthouse Research & Advisory.

The narrowing of the gap is “intriguing because it comes at a time of higher workforce expectations, an inequitable distribution of satisfaction across demographic groups, and negative trends in certain areas,” says Lighthouse.

But employers can do more to better satisfy the mental health needs of workers because there’s certainly a disconnect, says Aimee Gindin, chief marketing officer for LifeSpeak, in talking with Canadian HR Reporter. And a change in culture may be key, she says.

“When it comes to employee benefits, most employees don't even know what they have outside of their standard health insurance coverage. Some of it is out there, and no one's using it,” says Gindin, who holds a Master’s degree in Counseling - Psychology and worked as a mental health clinician at the start of her career.

“But what we had really discovered in our research is that you can have all of the benefits and resources in the world, but if you, as a company, are not talking the talk and not walking the walk, it doesn't really matter.”

A mental health emergency is affecting Canadian organizations to the tune of $200 billion each year, according to a previous report.

‘Psychological safety’ of key populations

Lighthouse’s report – based on a survey of 1,000 respondents conducted in the fall 2022 – found that women, people of colour, working parents and remote workers are seeking more mental health supports from their employers.

This comes down to psychological safety, says Gindin. 

“These individuals don't feel comfortable speaking up because they're worried about losing their jobs. You know, when you look at the statistics of working parents, women, people of colour, they often are not in privileged positions in their careers to be able to set boundaries for themselves.”

This happens to the extent that these marginalized groups feel like they don’t belong, she says.

“When you don't feel like you belong, when you feel like you're in a different life situation or you look different from other people, that is inextricably linked to mental health as well.

“We are social creatures by nature, and we want to feel like we're part of a group… A lot of the mental health benefits that are out there today do take into account issues around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging, but that doesn't necessarily mean that the employers’ culture does.”

Overall, about 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to poor mental health every week, according to a previous report.

Mental health program ' through the lens of caring and empathy'

Gindin notes that, when it comes to mental health, employers should recognize that one worker’s needs may be different from another.

“When you force feed a prescriptive journey for people, that doesn't work. Everyone's lives are so complex and have so many different variables at play.”

Instead of force feeding one way for all employees, employers should “fill the gaps” for workers, where and when needed, she says.

“That, I think, is important when you're talking about mental health, physical health, caregiver support, any of it. Because your journey and my journey are very different. And we don't necessarily need the same things or a fit in the same box.”

Gindin also emphasized the need for employers to educate managers about supporting the mental health needs of workers.

“There's a term called the Empathy Action Gap, where… 75 per cent of managers can see when someone is struggling with their mental health, but only 15 per cent know what to do. There's this 60 per cent gap of managers who know that there's a problem and don't have the tools.

“So I think educating your manager as part of your company culture is huge, because we know that the manager-individual contributor relationship is crucial [in] keeping people employed, making them feel like they belong, making them feel psychologically safe.”

Employers should also take a look at their policies “through the lens of caring and empathy and support, and make sure that they really are reflective” of the company's values and who the employer wants to be, she says.

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