Employer Community Must Confront the “Mental Health Action Gap”: Ontario Chamber of Commerce

BY mmarchand

One in five Canadians of working age currently live with a mental health problem or illness. In its new report and toolkit, Working Towards Mental Wellness, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) argues many of these Canadians do not receive the appropriate support at work due to the ‘mental health action gap.’

In a recent survey of members, the OCC found that while 81 per cent of employers believe spending on employees’ health and well-being is a good investment, only 4 in 10 businesses actually have a formal mental health strategy in place. The gap between business sizes is particularly acute, as only 35 per cent of small businesses have a strategy compared to 65 per cent of medium and 76 per cent of large businesses.

Understandably, small businesses have failed to act on mental wellness due to cost, perceived scope of responsibility, privacy concerns, or simply a lack of knowing what to do.

With mental illnesses costing the Canadian economy an estimated $50 billion annually and on average cost businesses almost $1,500 per employee per year, there is a strong business case for implementing a mental health strategy in the workplace.

In Working Towards Mental Wellness, the OCC is encouraging employers to adopt mental health strategies for their work place by following the toolkit provided in the
report. Fostering a healthy work culture does not require excessive process or large expenditure. The OCC’s toolkit for employers lays out a simple process to help organizations of all sizes get their mental health strategy in place.

The OCC’s toolkit lays out three initial steps for employers to start taking action on mental health in the workplace:
•Setting expectations: Identify your organization’s unique needs and solicit employee buy-in for change. Ask yourself what you are doing each day to model mental wellness at work.
•Creating a supportive environment: Make sure all employees feel welcome and able to talk about their mental and physical challengeswithout fear of judgement or reprisal, by encouraging culture change at all levels of the organization.
•Maintaining the conversation: Regularly measure the health of your organization to ensure that mental wellness strategies are not left on the shelf, and link action taken to results.

More resources to help employers build their own mental health strategies can be found on the OCC website.