Mental health in the workplace: Do employees feel prioritized?

Published on 3/23/2022 by Tessa Anaya

Supporting employee mental health is vital for any workplace, especially during a global pandemic. In this article, learn how SMEs can increase employee engagement through corporate wellness programs and cultivate a workplace where employees feel supported.

mental health workplace header

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and the drastic changes to personal and work routines alike, Canadians have been reporting more mental health issues to healthcare insurers. In an effort to be a part of the solution and not the problem, some companies have begun offering access to a wider range of mental health professionals. Only time will tell if mental health workplace benefits will become part of the new normal, however.

To help small to midsize enterprises understand how to support employees’ mental health during these unprecedented times, Capterra surveyed 1,100 Canadian employees who have not changed jobs since January 2020. For a detailed methodology of our survey, scroll to the end of this article.

Prioritizing mental health in the workplace

In Canada, employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of employees, including their mental health. Most employees surveyed agree that psychological support is a priority for their employers. In fact, 75% think it’s a moderate to high priority for their companies to address mental health issues in the workplace. 

how well protected is mental health in the workplace in Canada? A consumer sentiment survey explores

Addressing personal issues such as mental health in the workplace can be delicate, even for companies who prioritize this type of support. According to those surveyed, most employees (59%) would prefer to communicate in in-person meetings when talking to a manager or team leader about their mental health. While the majority of employees want a face-to-face approach, other preferred communication methods include:

  • Email (9%)
  • Virtual meeting (8%)
  • Phone call (8%)
  • Anonymous employee survey (8%)
Tip for SMEs: With COVID-19 distancing restrictions subject to frequent change, it isn’t wise to rely solely on in-person meetings to address employee mental health concerns. Offer more than one place for employees to discuss sensitive topics, such as virtual meeting rooms or employee engagement platforms

Providing various outlets for employees to share personal information with their managers is an inclusive practice. However, these platforms will only be useful if employees feel comfortable addressing their mental health issues at work. Unfortunately, fewer than one in five employees surveyed (18%) have ever indicated their mental health struggles to their employer.

Informing employers about mental health struggles

employee sentiments about discussing mental health issues in the workplace

While most employees (42%) say that they did not address this topic because they didn’t feel they had any mental health issues, more than one in four (26%) said they didn’t come forward because they didn’t feel comfortable discussing their mental health with their employer. Considering that 16% of those who spoke to their employer about their declining mental health received no help at all, employers’ reactions to struggling employees could be key in helping employees feel comfortable raising these issues.

Some survey takers also reported customized solutions proposed by employers, such as allowing for flexibility of working hours, changing to a hybrid model of work, and even allowing employees to bring dogs to work. Although reactions to struggling employees vary, most employees (81%) felt their employers had been “somewhat helpful” (38%) or “very helpful” (42%). 

Tip for SMEs: Having a process in place to seek out and identify employees struggling with their mental health is a vital step in discovering psychosocial hazards in the workplace. While a quarter of employees don’t feel comfortable speaking about their mental health at work in any circumstance, 12% also did not speak out about their issues because they were not asked. Staff should be asked regularly about stressors at work; this process should be confidential and anonymous if possible, as it is with survey software.

While aiming to build a supportive workplace, remember that employees’ comfort level discussing mental health at work varies greatly. According to Canadian survey takers, nearly one-third (30%) feel “somewhat” to “very uncomfortable” raising the topic in their company.

Making employees feel comfortable discussing mental health at work

To make employees feel comfortable discussing mental health at work, personal preferences should be considered. While some employees may simply not want to disclose mental health information to anyone in their company, others may prefer talking to someone they’re close to. 29% of surveyed employees would reach out to their managers first if they felt their mental health was declining, while an equal amount (29%) would not discuss it at work and seek external resources, instead.

Following these options, here are the next most popular points of contact for respondents to reach out to at work:

  • Colleagues (26%)
  • HR professionals (7%)
  • Company resource platform/employee assistance programs (6%)

When an employee is struggling with their mental health, where do they report it? While employees’ preferred points of contact may be a personal preference, it could also reflect the touchpoints available in a given company. While employees’ point-of-contact preferences do not vary greatly amongst companies of different sizes, there is one interesting difference. 11% of employees in companies with 101-250 employees would prefer to speak to an HR professional about their declining mental health, while only an average of 6% of employees in companies with 2-100 employees had this preference.

employees preferred point-of-contact for mental health issues as compared with company size
Tip for SMEs: To accommodate employees of all comfort levels surrounding personal topics, safe places for employee communication should be established. On such platforms, employees can feel anonymous and unjudged while accessing company resources.

Supporting employees’ mental health and wellness in the workplace may seem like an abstract concept. Practically speaking, it means offering wellness programs in companies. When taking an employee-focused approach to protecting mental health, virtual services may be a good idea to include amongst benefits; a previous Capterra study found that 73% of remote workers reported burnout symptoms in 2021. 

Workplace mental health resources 

In 2022, over one-third of Canadian respondents (39%) had access to company-offered mental health resources such as flexible work hours, wellness programs, and more. Two-thirds (61%) said their workplace did not currently have such benefits.

Canadian SMEs who offer their employees mental health resources in 2022

The lack of resources shown by the majority of SMEs shouldn’t be interpreted as a lack of importance of these resources, however. Companies looking to maximize employee engagement on the topic of mental health will find offering resources can be an effective way to achieve this. Amongst the 424 employees currently being offered mental health resources by their company, 93% feel satisfied with their options (53% of which are somewhat satisfied and 40% of which are reportedly very satisfied). 

The most valuable mental health resources as rated by employees

Mental health resources can help promote positive mental health in workplaces. Survey respondents with access to such resources were more likely to report good current mental health. 57% of those with mental health support from work describe their mental wellbeing as “good” (42%) or “excellent” (15%), while only 39% of those without resources report a similarly positive current mental state.

To help businesses understand which mental health resources are most important for employees, respondents were asked to rank a list of measures based on their value to respondents’ mental health. Flexible work schedules were cited as “very valuable” by 47% of employees and “somewhat valuable” by 34%, making it the highest chosen option (81%) of Canadian respondents.

mental health resources in the workplace and their value to employees based on Canadian survey data 

Creating a socially-connected workplace

Social isolation can adversely affect physical and emotional health, especially when endured over prolonged periods of time. Colleagues can play an important role in promoting positive mental health in the workplace. 18% of surveyed employees report regularly feeling isolated as a result of their jobs; companies who wish to make their workplace a mentally healthy one should include strengthening work relationships in their strategy. 

When it comes to improving employees’ relationships with their colleagues, 74% of national survey takers said company-organized social events were “moderately effective” (51%) or “very effective” (23%) in connecting them with their colleagues. The work-sponsored events that respondents found most valuable in promoting social connection were in-person parties (76%), group physical activities such as hiking and team sports (64%), hobby and craft events (50%), and cultural activities (50%).

Key considerations

To help SMEs consider the most relevant information for their organization when creating an employee wellness program, we’ve summed up our survey results into some succinct takeaways:

  • Offer both physical and virtual outlets (such as virtual meeting rooms or employee surveys) for employees to discuss mental health issues, if possible.
  • Provide training to employees as well as managers on how to address mental health issues and use the resources allocated to them.
  • Establish resources to help employees maintain positive mental health, such as wellness reimbursements and/or flexibility with working hours.
  • Organize social events to encourage and strengthen inter-employee support systems.
Looking for corporate wellness tools? Check out our catalogue.

Survey methodology: 

Capterra’s Mental Health in the Workplace Survey was launched online in January 2022. The survey was completed by 1,100 Canadians. The sample of participants is representative of the population of Canada regarding aspects of age and gender, and the criteria for selecting participants are as follows: 

  • Canadian resident
  • Between the ages of 18 and 65
  • Employed full- or part-time 
  • Working in a directorial, managerial, senior, mid-level, or associate-level position
  • Working at a company with between 2 and 250 employees
  • Has not changed or left jobs between January 2020 and January 2022

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.

About the author

Tessa is a Content Analyst for Capterra, delivering software-related insights to local SMEs. She was featured in the Globe and Mail, La Presse, the Financial Post, and Yahoo.

Tessa is a Content Analyst for Capterra, delivering software-related insights to local SMEs. She was featured in the Globe and Mail, La Presse, the Financial Post, and Yahoo.