Psychological Health in the Workplace

Melissa Kennedy is a labour relations, employment and human resources specialist who assists clients with proactively managing compliance, risk and ensuring best practices are in place.

The Canadian Mental Health Association recognizes May 5th through 11th each year as Mental Health Week in Canada. The impact of psychological illness in the workplace is becoming increasingly prevalent, resulting in decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and impacts on an employer’s health care programs, as well as negative consequences for employee engagement and morale, employee well-being and organizational culture.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health illness or problem each year, and that nearly one in four members of the working population is affected by mental health illness which may lead to absenteeism or “presenteeism”[1] (i.e. when employees are physically present, but due to a physical or emotional issue, are distracted to the point of reduced productivity).[2] Approximately 30% of short and long-term disability claims in Canada are attributed to mental health problems and illnesses, amounting to an economic impact of approximately $20 billion annually from workplace losses.[3]

The DSM-5 (“Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders”), which provides practitioners and regulatory bodies with a comprehensive inventory of mental disorders, was amended in 2013 to include a number of new disorders including but not limited to: Caffeine Withdrawal, Cannabis Withdrawal, Mild Neurocognitive Disorder, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and treating extended grief over the loss of a loved one as depression. As Toronto Partner, Daniel Pugen, points out the inclusion of these types of disorders may increase employee leaves of absence as well as the cost of employer’s health care programs.

It is critical, that employers be proactive and transparent in their approach to dealing with the mental health of their employees, including:

  • Implementing an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to provide employees and their dependents with a confidential resource, and ensuring that the contact information is provided to all employees as well as posted in a conspicuous area in the workplace;
  • Training managers and employees alike on the importance of tolerance, mutual respect and how to recognize and address signs of a problem; and
  • Promoting mental health awareness, generating discussion and communication, and implementing programs and initiatives to remove the negative stigma associated with mental illness.

Best Practice Tips

  1. Consider contracting out the adjudication of short-term disability claims, in order to save costs (i.e. engaging an ASO arrangement).
  2. When considering employee accommodations or return to work, HR should seek physician statements from specialists, not simply from the individual’s family doctor, in order to make the most appropriate decisions.
  3. When developing Physical Demands Analysis for each position in your organization, ensure that a Psychological Demands Analysis is completed simultaneously. Understanding the cognitive impacts of each role will aid in assessing risk, preventing exposure and ensuring that individuals are appropriately accommodated, whenever necessary, for an early and safe return to work.