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Stress hurting worker productivity

Tuesday February 10, 2015 Written by  Morneau Shepell
One in four Canadian workers have become ill in the last six months due to workplace related stress.

According to new research from Morneau Shepell, one in three Canadian employees say they are now suffering or have suffered from a mental health condition such as depression or an anxiety disorder. Another 27 per cent say they are experiencing significant symptoms of stress.

The new national survey, which polled employees, employers and physicians across Canada, found that the majority of employees (58 per cent) said their productivity has been negatively impacted by stress at work, while nearly half (45 per cent) revealed that they have thought about leaving their job due to workplace stress and its impact on them.

At the same time, almost one-third of employees (31 per cent) have taken time off work because of workplace stress.

"Employers are beginning to understand that mental health is not the concern of a few, but an issue that impacts the workplace overall," said Alan Torrie, president and CEO of Morneau Shepell. "There has been tremendous progress in the past few years in many workplaces. But there is still much to be done in our society and a long way to go to make all workplaces more psychologically healthy and to encourage people to reach out for the help they need."

A psychologically healthy workplace is a productive one

According to the survey, employees believe overwhelmingly that a psychologically healthy workplace is a productive one, with 90 per cent of employees indicating that managing employee mental wellness is important for employee productivity.  Furthermore, the vast majority (83 per cent) believe that stress itself is not universally negative, asserting that workplace stress can be positive or negative depending on how the workplace supports and responds to the employee.

Yet despite growing awareness about the importance of workplace mental health, only 56 per cent of employees believe their organization supports mental wellness on the job. 

"The survey revealed some disconnects between employer and employee perceptions on how mental wellness is being handled in the workplace. Employers generally believe they are doing a better job at addressing psychological health in the workplace than their employees believe they are," said Paula Allen, vice-president of research and integrative solutions with Morneau Shepell. "Our research also shows that employees recognize the business value in a mentally healthy workplace. Workplace support is perceived as critical to how stress is viewed by employees, and its impact on them. This also impacts productivity, and ultimately, can influence the success of an organization."

Stigma remains a barrier to progress

Despite increasing workplace support, the new research shows that stigma remains a challenge. A strong majority of employees (71 per cent) expressed concern about workplace stigma around mental health; 65 per cent of employees indicated self-stigma and more than half (53 per cent) indicated concerns of stigma from their physician.

Interestingly, the survey found that in many instances employees are actually tougher on individuals with mental illness than their employers, and some significantly negative attitudes toward mental illness remain prevalent.  In fact, one in five employees (19 per cent) believes that whether someone becomes mentally ill is fully within their control (compared to 12 per cent of employers).

Physicians believe workplaces must do more

When polled, almost every physician respondent (99 per cent) indicated that work issues have a role in the mental health issues they see on a regular basis. Similarly, 98 per cent of physicians indicated they believe the workplace has a role in worsening health.

When asked what employers could do to foster psychologically healthy workplaces, the number one recommendation among physicians was for better workplace communication and social support. The availability of counselling and guidance also scored high. Interestingly, physicians said these two factors are more important for their patients than reduced workload or time off work.

The surrey was conducted in November and December 2014.

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