Invest in employee mental health and give your business a competitive edge

Editor’s note: this article was originally published on February 4, 2019, in the Hill Times.

In today’s global economy, if Canadian businesses are to enjoy a competitive edge, they need to dig deep and look inward. With the highest wages in the OECD, rising electricity costs, and a protectionist stance from our closest trading partner, we need to get creative to achieve economic success.

Addressing mental illness in the workplace is clearly part of the solution — the World Economic Forum estimates that mental health problems will cost the global economy some $6 trillion by 2030. But the stigma around mental illness can make addressing its impact more difficult: research shows that half of Canadians won’t tell friends or co-workers they have a family member with a mental illness.

That’s where 338 Conversations comes in. This critical effort will encourage all 338 Members of Parliament and their local Chambers of Commerce to bring the mental health conversation to Canadians at work, where they spend most of their waking hours.

Every week, 500,000 people miss work due to a mental health problem or illness, which means that ignoring mental illness is at best short-sighted.

In fact, improving mental health in the workplace can decrease productivity losses by as much as 30 per cent. Integrating psychological health into the policies that frame an organization’s culture and values is a means to protect mental health. So too is replacing silence and stoicism with disclosure and support, an important step toward erasing the stigma that prevents people from seeking the help they need.

Collectively we can reshape a healthier, more competitive economy. Embracing inclusivity, valuing emotional intelligence, and fostering skills like resiliency are just as important as pursuing excellence in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. You cannot thrive in your chosen field, no matter how intelligent you are, if you don’t have access to tools and resources to cope well with work and life stresses.

Building mentally healthy workplaces with tools like the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard), championed by the MHCC since its launch in 2013, doesn’t just benefit the one in five employees living with a mental health problem. Such tools can provide guidance on how to promote psychological health and prevent psychological harm due to workplace factors for all workers and organizations, regardless of size or sector.

In Canada alone, we’re losing over $51 billion to mental health problems and illnesses every year — that’s nearly $1,400 for every person living in Canada in 2016. In terms of human cost, in Ontario alone the disease burden of mental illness and addiction is 1.5 times higher than all cancers combined, including the years lived with reduced functioning and lost to early death. 

Clearly, there are considerable gains to be made by Canadian businesses, as enterprises and the people who compose them. The good news is that the best path forward not only makes good business sense, it also makes good people sense.

Join #StandardCda - Let’s get mental health up to standard.

By the Hon. Michael Wilson, P.C., C.C., Board Chair, Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Hon. Perrin Beatty, President and CEO, Canadian Chamber of Commerce.