The Four Biggest Mental Health Issues Affecting Workplaces Today

The Four Biggest Mental Health Issues Affecting Workplaces Today

In the two years since the beginning of the pandemic, Canadians’ mental health has sharply declined, deepening an already serious mental health crisis. Despite short-term gains, mental health hasn’t bounced back to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, data shows that Canadian mental health is currently at its lowest since the beginning of the pandemic.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) ninth Canadian mental health and substance abuse survey, anxiety, depression, and loneliness have spiked to their highest levels since spring 2020. LifeWorks’ Mental Health Index shows that the mental health of Canadians has consistently been at 10 points or lower than the pre-2020 benchmark, dropping to -10.5 in March.

The statistics reflect an urgent need to address employee mental health. It is not enough for employers to apply temporary fixes or implement reactionary policies as a Band-Aid approach to COVID-19. As we are now seeing, mental health needs are not being met sustainably. 24% of Canadians have disclosed they needed mental health services over the past 12 months but were unable to receive them (CAMH, 2022).

Organizations must continually adapt and support employees in the face of new and ongoing challenges. Here are the four biggest mental health issues that organizations should be paying attention to today.

1. Managing Anxiety of Return to Office and Return to Normal

Only half of office workers who shifted to remote work during the pandemic had returned to the office before the Omicron wave in 2021, according to the Amazon Business Return to Office Report, and one-third who had returned were sent back home as a result of the wave. As businesses’ return to work plans get back on track in 2022, employers may face more resistance from employees who have built routines and lifestyles around remote work. Two in five employees say they would look for another job if mandated to return to office full time (Newswire, 2022).

It is to be expected that some employees may feel anxious about how the return to office will affect their way of life. Work-life balance is an important factor in employee health and satisfaction, so a lack of choice over returning to the office and disruption to regular work-from-home routines can be a stressful event.

While employers have the right to call employees back, they should consider how implementing flexible policies and using a carrot vs. stick approach can benefit both employee mental health and retention.

2. Managing Presenteeism Related to Mental Health

Though work absences have increased significantly in the last two years, studies show that the cost of presenteeism can potentially be much greater. With many studies showing that employees have worked longer hours on average while working from home (a 2.5-hour increase on average, according to NordVPN Teams), it’s unsurprising that a significant number of Canadians are reporting burnout in their organizations.

When employees work while unwell, there are many potential impacts, such as loss of productivity. LifeWorks reports that burnout is leading to a significant lack of concentration and motivation among Canadian workers. They reported that 27% of Canadians find it increasingly difficult to concentrate on work, 35% find it difficult to be motivated to do their work, and 42% end their workday feeling mentally or physically exhausted.

To keep employees not only at work, but highly engaged at work, employers will have to continue to invest in mental health supports that help employees manage the psychological demands and stress of their jobs.

3. Leadership Mental Health

These have been difficult times for employers and employees alike. Leaders have been tasked with supporting their employees’ mental health in unprecedented times, often without comprehensive training or mental health support of their own. In addition to their own personal mental health issues, leaders have faced business challenges such as staffing issues, increased costs, reduced revenue, and other worries. In LifeWorks’ March Mental Health Index Report, they reported that the mental health score of managers dropped a point from the previous month and is now below non-managers and the national average.

According to a new report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), 66% of small business owners are close to burning out. Furthermore, only 37% of business owners are accessing mental health information for their employees and only 27% are seeking this support for themselves (CFIB, 2022).

Leaders who do not manage their own mental health will face challenges in continuing to support their employees. They must refill their own emotional well first in order to gain the resources they need to guide others.

4. Psychological Safety and Inclusivity

Marginalized Canadians have always experienced a disproportionate amount of psychological hazards in the workplace, and recent surveys show that this is still the case post-pandemic. In a study conducted by Mental Health Research Canada, only 45% of Black Canadians reported that they feel safe from workplace discrimination (MHRC, 2021). Similarly, a Catalyst survey revealed that 61% of Indigenous workers do not feel psychologically safe at work (Canadian Occupational Safety, 2022).

Racial minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and people with mental or physical disabilities are more likely to experience burnout, bullying, microaggressions, and are more likely to have experienced trauma (MHRC, 2021). They are more likely to feel less engagement in their organizations and are less likely to feel committed to the organization’s success or that work is an important part of who they are (2021). These groups are also more likely to leave jobs for their mental health (2021).

If organizations do not take steps to foster a psychologically healthy workplace for diverse employees, they will see it in their bottom line. Job satisfaction, sense of value, belonging, and purpose, and mental well-being are quickly becoming the most prized qualities for job seekers. Failing to satisfy these needs will result in a less happy and healthy workforce and ultimately, higher rates of absenteeism, disability, and turnover.

How Can Gowan Consulting Help?

Gowan Consulting is a national organization with more than 150 Occupational Therapists across Canada. We provide Occupational Therapy coaching virtually and onsite. Ease of access and proactive onsite or virtual support ensures that employees can stay at or return to work. We want to help your organization – make a referral here or contact us at to learn more.

Check out our mental health training and tools for Mental Health May!

  • Mental Health Month Free Webinar Series – Every Thursday in May we are offering four free webinars on the topic of mental health. These 45-minute sessions will cover the topics of managing anxiety of return to office and return to normal, managing presenteeism, leadership mental health, and psychological safety and hybrid work (strategies for inclusivity).
  • Manager Mental Health Training is now running all year long! Our next session takes place on June 16, 2022. Sign up today to reserve your spot!
  • Manager’s Toolkit and Webinar – Our FREE Manager’s Toolkit comes with a webinar to help provide strategies and resources for employees’ return to work post-pandemic.

Works Cited

“More than one-quarter of Canadians are unable to disconnect after work hours,” LifeWorks, April 21, 2022,

“Mental Health Index,” LifeWorks, March 2022,

“Anxiety, feelings of depression and loneliness among Canadians spikes to highest levels since spring 2020,” Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, January 25, 2022,

“It’s a New Era for Mental Health at Work,” Kelly Greenwood and Julia Anas, Harvard Business Review, October 4, 2021,

“OOO Until TBD? Majority of Canadian Office Workers Want Remote Work to Stay,” Newswire, March 10, 2022,

“Employees working from home are putting in longer hours than before the pandemic,” Jack Guy, CNN Business, February 5, 2021,

“Small business owners nearing a breaking point while struggling to support their employees’ mental health,” Canadian Federation of Independent Business, May 3, 2022,

“Racialized, Indigenous workers feel more psychologically unsafe at work,” Jim Wilson, Canadian Occupational Safety, April 29, 2022,

“Psychological Health and Safety in Canadian Workplaces,” Mental Health Research Canada, December 2021,

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