Health-related absences and presenteeism add up

Recent survey finds many Canadians suffering from mental health risks

Health-related absences and presenteeism add up

Nearly half (48 per cent) of Canadian employees experienced at least one work-related mental health risk factor in 2021, and 51 per cent experienced feelings of loneliness.

As a result, 16 per cent of working hours – equivalent to 41.2 days – were lost last year due to absences and presenteeism, according to a Manulife report.

"Mental health supports like virtual psychotherapy, employee assistance programs, and mindfulness sessions translate into employee health and well-being improvements," says Georgia Pomaki, director for mental health best practices at Manulife.

"Organizations can help employees by removing barriers to accessing these benefits, increasing communications about available products and services, and helping reduce the stigma around their use. Given what we have been living through the past two years, if there's ever a time to accelerate these efforts, the time is now."

More than two-thirds (68 per cent) of employers say they have enhanced their wellbeing proposition. But many employees are unhappy with the mental health resources being offered.

Impact on work

Mental fatigue is the top reason employees aren't making healthy choices, according to the Manulife survey.

Also, lack of work-life balance is the number one mental health risk factor, and work-related stress is the top-cited factor affecting employees' sleep.

More than half (57 per cent) of employees are worried about their financial situation, and six per cent say worrying about money distracts them at work.

A British Columbia employer discriminated against a worker when it terminated him for absenteeism after it should have known that a mental disability was in play, the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal recently ruled.

The concept of presenteeism may falter as the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, according to one expert.

Other challenges to wellbeing

While mental health is a main concern, Canadian’s overall wellbeing is suffering in several areas, found Manulife’s survey of more than 6,100 respondents conducted in February, May and October 2021.

  • 74 per cent have one or more musculoskeletal conditions
  • 42 per cent of respondents have three or more health risk factors
  • 39 per cent are at risk due to low physical activity levels
  • 35 per cent have one of more chronic conditions
  • 29 per cent get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night

Twelve per cent of Canadians reported they are using marijuana, but only three per cent said it was for medical purposes. One-third 33 per cent of employees said they were binge drinking at least once a month.

Addressing presenteeism

Here are some ways employers can solve the presenteeism problem, according to employee benefits platform Perkbox:

  • Provide healthcare benefits.
  • Managers must set good examples.
  • Create a workplace culture of care.
  • Review your team’s workloads.
  • Stay on top of the problem.

However, “workplace leaders and HR need to understand the problem and why this is occurring before taking any further steps,” according to Perkbox.

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