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COVID-19: Supporting Mental Health of Employees is Good Business

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A great article came out last week from The Globe and Mail on why companies need to prioritize employees mental health during the pandemic.  This is something we have been saying for years and it’s great to see mainstream media reporting on it more too now. 

Five years ago, Ontario Shores created my role to help develop community partnerships with organizations external to our hospital, and deliver mental health training to their employees.  Five years ago, this was a tough sell. Most organizations I approached were not ready to tackle this yet.  I would give them a whole presentation about how mental health training could benefit not just the individuals working within their organization, but also their family members, and the organization as a whole.  Here were the majority of responses I would get: “The cost is too much for what we are looking for at the moment”; “Two days of training is too much time for my managers to spend learning about mental health. What kind of program can you offer in an hour?”; or “There’s too many changes within our organization now to be tackling a project like this and unfortunately right now we just don’t have the time”.  All of these responses are completely understandable.  It is difficult having managers spend time away from their jobs and can add more exhaustion to their workload.  Also, having employees away from their regular duties is a very large expense for the organization. 

However, research from all over the world has consistently shown that investing in employees’ mental health now provides positive ROI’s (return on investments).  In the Globe and Mail article they cite Deloitte’s 2019 research showing on average $1.62 but up to $2.18 ROI for every dollar spent. It can seem like an overwhelming cost now in terms of effort, time, money, and resources, but according to all the research, it’s worth it, and you will see your ROI in as little as a year with improvements continuing.

Here are some the observations I’ve made from training thousands of people in all different kinds of working environments:

  • If you want to reduce the number of days employees take off for mental health, then you need to give them access to resources that provide psychotherapy. Resources include benefits they can use towards psychotherapy, and having an Employee Assistance Program which offers immediate counselling services. Without these supports, your employees will likely be waiting months before they can access any form of government funded psychotherapy. 
  • They need paid sick time to go see a doctor. Family doctors tend to work business hours and so for an employee who does not get sick time, if it comes down to them getting paid or seeing a doctor, they’re going to choose getting paid in which their illness could slowly get worse, resulting in more sick time later on.
  • Employees should be trained how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses and how to respond. Most employees will know some of the company resources to support employee mental health.  What they often don’t know, is when they should use them. We tend to still have very dated stigmatized views of mental illness in the workplace, and so often symptoms are left unnoticed.  And so EAP and benefits are very under utilized with most companies reporting around 15% utilization rates.  However, the Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that 23% of workers report having mental health issues affecting their work.  This statistic on a good day is under reported, and with all the stress and uncertainty surround Covid-19 this number is likely much higher.

If time or costs have been factors working against your company implementing a mental health program, there is no better time than now to start.  Your people are going to need these supports more than ever in the upcoming months.

If you have questions on how to start you can email me at @email.  And for those organizations who have already implemented these resources, great job! Now is a good time to start promoting these supports even more, through internal communications and implementing some additional online training to spread the word.

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