Mental health in the workplace: What employers can do

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By Ty Arslan
Special to Ottawa Construction News
Mental health issues have significant impact in the workplace. Consider these key issues:
• On any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work because of mental illness

• More than 30 per cent of disability claims and 70 per cent of disability costs are attributed to mental illness

• It is estimated that between compensation to sick workers and lost productivity, mental health issues cost the Canadian economy $51 billion a year, of which $20 billion alone would be lost productivity. The total loss represents four per cent of GDP. (Towers Watson, 2012)
Within the workplace, mental health may result in higher turnover, greater levels of job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, presenteeism, employee health impacts and productivity loss.
It can also hit your bottom line with salary-related and lost production costs, short and long term disability and other health claims.
What is the profile of a person with mental health issues: Is there a stigma?
Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures. Some groups more likely to report mental health issues include women, non-managers, workers in the not-for-profit sector and unionized employees.
Conversely, these groups are less likely to report mental health problems: Quebec residents, people 65 years and older, and, interestingly, the construction sector. (Source: Conference Board of Canada.)
The financial impact of mental health on Short Term (STD) and Long Term Disability (LTD) claims
For short term and long term disability claims, mental disorders are the leading cause of disability among professional and management occupations and almost equal to MSK claims in other job categories. Mental disorder STD claims have the longest durations and last between 10 weeks to 14 weeks (longer for professional and management categories). Many of these claims would likely reach the maximum benefit period and may transition into a long-term disability claim.
Meanwhile mental disorder LTD claims have the longest duration (over 3.1 years) with the greatest in the professional and management categories. Females have a higher incidence then men for mental disorders.
How the costs add up
Both shortt and long-term disability costs can add up. For example, as many as 10 employees may be away from work 10 days or more during the year At least one of these employees will suffer from a mental health issue. At an average salary of $50,000, that employee will cost $12,500 in lost salary at 100 per cent.
The losses from long-term disability claims can be significant, as well.
What are your responsibilities as an employer?
Employers should note that providing a safe and healthy work place extends beyond the physical environment to encompass mental health issues.
Staff should be educated about mental illnesses, to remove stigma, learn that mental health coping strategies are strained by stress, burnout, conflict or life events, be aware of mental health resources. Educational programs can be supported by posters, articles, newsletters, lunh and learns, health fairs and other initiatives.
Early intervention and employee support are important, and these can be provided through prevention and crisis response systems, temporary accommodation, and mental health resources for employees.
Positive change is possible
Here are some tips in creating positive change in your organization, from the Conference Board of Canada:
1. Focus on education and communication to reduce fear, stigma and discrimination
2. Create a culture conducive to good mental health
3. Demonstrate leadership at the top
4. Provide the tools and training to support managers in their role
5. Inform employees
Ty Arslan is president of Auspice Safety Inc. He can be reached by email at or visit www.auspicesafety.com.

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