Study shows Canadian workers continue to struggle with mental health

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Workplace mental health
A new survey found workplace relationships are worsening as many people continue to work from home. As Abigail Turner reports, it's impacting the mental health of those set up at their kitchen table – Nov 25, 2021

A new study shows that Canadians are reporting an increase in stress in the workplace, namely young people, parents and managers.

The Mental Health Index study was conducted by LifeWorks and polled 3,000 people between Oct. 6 and Oct. 12 who are currently employed or were employed within the last six months.

The study found 24 per cent of respondents reported their work has hindered their mental health, and 20 per cent of workers reported feeling in crisis or having concerns about their ability to cope.

Paula Allen, LifeWorks Global’s leader and senior vice-president of research and total well-being, said there is still work to do in improving workplace mental health.

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“I think what we’re realizing is that transitioning back to the way it was is probably not going to happen exactly the way it was. Right now people have been more autonomous than they have been before,” Allen said.

Allen added it’s key for employers to show empathy for the disrupted situation, show flexibility and make sure employees know they are valued.

Research also shows that younger Canadians, parents and managers are experiencing those concerns at a disproportionate rate.

Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Saskatchewan director of advocacy, research and public policy development Rebecca Rackow and senior consultant Dave Nelson say managers may be dealing with more stress due to change.

“We suspect that that has a lot to do with changing policies and changing things in the environment, things like vaccination requirements … and having to relay that to staff,” Rackow said.

Nelson added that some staff who aren’t vaccinated may need to get extra COVID-19 testing done, which could also lead to stress.

“That’s just one thing out of the overall, almost two years now that the pandemic has been disrupting almost everything and the stress builds up, and I think it spills over, logically enough, into the workplace, too,” Nelson said.

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As for younger workers struggling with their mental health, both Rackow and Nelson suggested this could be parents who are still dealing with virtual learning or people working entry-level jobs, perhaps on the front line.

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The study also revealed that respondents reported that their workplace relationships have deteriorated since the pandemic began. Of the respondents, 10 per cent reported that their experiences with work peers have not been positive since the beginning of the pandemic.

Though Canadian workers are very efficient now, whether they are working from home, the office or a hybrid situation, Allen said the study shows that efficiency came with a bit of a cost last month.

“This month we actually saw a worsening of relationships between employees and their managers and also between peers,” Allen said.

“One of the things we have to realize is that that’s not necessarily driven by negative things and conflict and things that automatically come to mind. It’s just the absence of positive experiences that make relationships deteriorate.”

Terri Peterson, clinical counselling leader at USask’s student wellness centre, said pressure is going to impact people at different developmental stages differently.

“Because some developmental stages actually already have a lot of pressure on them. Some of them, like the young adult stage, usually get a lot of support and social connection through that stage and that hasn’t always been possible,” Peterson explained.

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Peterson added that changing working situations, like moving from remote working to hybrid or back in the office, can also add stress.

Click to play video: 'Latest mental health index shows deteriorating work relationships'
Latest mental health index shows deteriorating work relationships

Peterson said lots of employees are still worried about their health, as COVID-19 is still present.

She thinks this is part of why workplace dynamics are being impacted.

“When people don’t see each other regularly, it can be easy to reduce or misconstrue or to have that miscommunication, probably with managers and the expectation, but also with each other when we don’t see the whole person,” Peterson said.

“It’s really easy to let the little things kind of become bigger things and interrupt our capacity to feel safe or connected.”

Allen said employers really need to prioritize their employees’ mental health.

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“We are starting to see the impact on productivity. We were very efficient over the last little while, but that efficiency is really challenged right now because people are feeling drained and they’re not feeling connected to their workplaces,” Allen said.

Allen added it’s important for employers to focus on building a sense of belonging, ensuring employees have a positive work experience wherever they are, and making sure employees know about mental health supports that are available to them.

Peterson added that coping strategies that were working in the short term probably aren’t working as well now.

“Some of us were using things to cope that we can’t just continue to use — and so figuring out, how can I cope, how can I give myself a break but also meet the requirements of my job,” Peterson said.

She added that employees who are feeling burnt out should talk to their managers and figure out what kind of support they need.

“We are in this secondary pandemic, which lots of people have named as a secondary mental health pandemic. And if we don’t name it with each other, if we don’t support each other to find new ways to cope, then it is going to just kind of break down more and more,” Peterson said.

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