“We’re going through a lot of upheaval,” Allen says. “People are really just on edge.”
A potential recession and the soaring cost of living have to be dealt with as well. Inflation and rising interest rates have put major pressure on people’s budgets, fuelling the highest level of stress around money since the 2008 financial crisis, with 61 per cent of employed North Americans feeling more stress now than this time last year, according to research from Ceridian HCM Inc. and the Financial Wellness Lab of Canada.
That stress is eating into people’s workdays and more than 80 per cent of North Americans admit to taking time from work tasks to think about their personal finances. Almost a quarter of them spend an hour or more per day worrying about money. The result: billions of dollars in lost productivity, clocking in at US$50 billion in Canada and US$614 billion in the United States, the Financial Wellness Lab estimates.
In addition to the lost productivity toll on companies, mental-health disability claims are rising, up 8.7 per cent in 2021 from 6.4 per cent in 2019, Statistics Canada data shows.
The financial impacts should be enough reason for employers to take action on workers’ well-being, and some have. For many, that comes in the form of offering employee assistance programs (EAPs), which provide counselling and support services. Those initiatives aren’t just a perk, Allen says. They save lives.
But posting the EAP hotline number in the staff break room and calling it a day isn’t enough, experts say. Employers must also focus on creating workplaces that promote respect and inclusion, both of which are vital for well-being. That might mean training managers to address employee concerns, and how to spot and help a worker in crisis. Those measures create a productive work environment, and keep employees feeling supported, leading to greater loyalty and retention, thereby eliminating the costs of hiring and training in a tight labour market.
Of course, mental health isn’t solely the responsibility of employers. January is an ideal month for individuals to take steps to shore up their own well-being as well as that of those around them. “At this time of year, we have to really be intentional about taking as much control as we can and supporting each other as much as we can,” Allen says.
She suggests making concrete plans to connect with friends, which buoys mood by creating something to look forward to and addresses isolation. Seeking professional help is another option, especially if the dark and gloomy days of winter are taking a major toll. People should also ensure they’re not putting off seeking help, since that can turn a difficult situation into a crisis, Allen says.
“Don’t take mental health for granted,” she says. “Every single one of us has a certain level of vulnerability, and often we don’t know how extensive that vulnerability is until we’ve crashed right through it.”
A popular adage states: be kind, you never know what someone might be going through. It’s a saying worth following if you’re paying attention to mental-health statistics. With so much of our time spent working, employers have a unique opportunity to make a difference. If bosses aren’t moved by the ethical and human case for addressing employee mental health, perhaps the financial benefits will be enough to move their hand.
— Victoria Wells, senior editor, Financial Post, and FP Work editor
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