The Conference Board of Canada has published a new report: Future-Proofing Investments in Workplace Mental Health, Meeting Employees’ Evolving Needs. In it, the Workplace Mental Health Research Centre, in part funded by organizations from the industry including Desjardins Insurance and Sun Life, discusses benefits coverage in depth, organizational approaches to holistic mental health, the unique needs of equity-deserving groups, incorporating employee input to improve programs, measuring outcomes and organizational strategies being used to manage workplace stress.   

The group says many organizations have increased their suite of mental health and wellness initiatives to manage the transition of work through the COVID-19 pandemic. Many organizations, they add, say low usage of employee benefits programs, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) in particular, is a key concern.

With mental health issues directly impacting 43 per cent of the population at some point during their lifetimes, however, the report says the business costs associated with mental ill-health issues are staggering. The study, including interviews with 141 Canadian organizations and focus group sessions held with 29 people from 27 different organizations, examines current organizational practices and whether they are effective.

It found that organizations participating in the study were becoming more strategic in their approach to workplace mental health, with 72.5 per cent saying they have or are developing a formalized strategy to support employee mental health beyond simply offering benefits.

That said, they add that “overall, organizations tend to regard their benefits plans as the first line of defense for employee mental health.” The report looks in depth at the different percentages covered by employers for different benefits plan features. It looks at the cost per employee and also at the cost of each as a percentage of total payroll.

Regarding coverage for psychological services, the research found one third of organizations have increased their coverage for such services, while another 16 per cent aim to do the same within the next 12 months. “On average, the maximum coverage per employee is $2,364.90. The Canadian Psychological Association recommends a stand-alone annual coverage maximum of between $3,500 and $4,000,” enough, they say, to obtain the number of sessions typically required to improve the mental well-being of people with depression or anxiety. Other wellness initiatives offered by the different employers surveyed are also itemized.

Flexible work arrangements are also looked at in some depth, as the group says both positive and negative effects can be had from flexible work arrangements, depending on how they are implemented, designed and managed.

Finally, the report concludes with a series of recommendations – 29 in total – for organizations to consider in their efforts to create healthier, future-proof workplaces.