Mental Health In The Canadian Workplace & The Impact On Organizational Leadership

In my October article, Top three workplace challenges in the post-COVID 19 era I received an abundance of positive feedback and comments on mental health. So much so, I thought I’d take the time to expand upon it. Let me begin by saying I am not an expert in mental health nor do I pretend to be however, as a person who has suffered from and continue to experience mental health challenges, I think I am in a position to offer some type of personal insight into this illness. Mental health is exactly that – an illness; not a weakness. In Canada, October 10th is World Mental Health Day, it’s a yearly occurrence however, for  6.7 million Canadians – everyday is World Mental Health Day.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) one in five Canadians experience or are experiencing mental health challenges or illness each year. This means that approximately 500,000 employees are unable to work everyday due to mental health challenges. Morneau Shepell a provider of Human Resource services that deliver an integrated approach to employee wellbeing reports that mental health issues in the workplace are among the top concerns for Canadian organizations and these concerns are well founded.


The overall health of a workplace includes both the physical and psychological wellbeing of the employee. By treating mental health and its psychological component equally with the physical environment, a workplace can support their employees overall wellbeing. Poor mental health not only hampers the employee, it also reduces corporate profits, increases employee turnover and absenteeism and increases conflict. It is important that all levels of the organization be involved in mental health of the workplace. It is a shared responsibility for the health and safety of all employees.

For Canadian organizations to be effective in dealing mental health challenges, it is imperative that they understand the concept of mental health, mental illness and their impact in the workplace. Employees report workplace stress as a primary cause of their mental health problems or illness with depression and anxiety noted as the top two issues.

So, what are the common symptoms / behaviours that leaders ought to look for in the workplace from employees that suffer from mental health issues? Kelly Greenwood and Natasha Krol of Mind Share Partners in their paper reinventing Health Care in the Workplace point to the fact that the following may be apparent;

  • missed deadlines
  • reduced productivity
  • reduced quality of work
  • absenteeism or lateness
  • relationship issues or conflict with coworkers
  • withdrawal or reduced participation
  • loss of confidence, anxiety and fearfulness
  • change in physical appearance
  • lasting sadness and / or irritability
  • extreme high and lows
  • crying for no apparent reason

In addition, medical professionals at McMaster University Hospital point to the fact that mental health issues are a large contributor to obesity, anorexia, respiratory and heart problems. To further exacerbate these health issues, the Morneau Shepell  / MHCC white paper state that employees use coping skills such as increasing tobacco, cannabis and alcohol as a means to counter mental health issues. The white paper further explains that suicide remains a top concern with 58 % of the white paper respondents reporting that they had considered taking their lives to cope with mental illness.

Issues In The Workplace

The Covid – 19 pandemic has had a positive benefit for mental health suffers and advocates as well as organizations. It has long been known that mental health has been an issue that requires attention but, for many organizations it was ignored. Covid – 19 has forced organizations to deal with these challenges.

Research conducted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety has identified psychosocial risk factors (PRF) that may have an impact on organizational health, the health of leaders and employees and the health of profit margins. The way work is now carried out and the context in which work occurs is having a significant impact on employee mental health – positively and negatively. When employees have negative exposure to these factors, there is potential for depressed mood swings, anxiety, burnout and demoralization. It is incumbent for organizations to consider these items in their efforts to create a mentally healthy workplace. These PRF’s are:

  • Organizational culture
  • Psychological support
  • Clear leadership
  • Civility & respect in the workplace
  • Workload management
  • Work life balance
  • Engagement
  • Communication
  • Empathy

Workplace issues that affect mental health include:

  • Discrimination
  • Presenteeism
  • Job burnout
  • Harassment, violence, bullying and mobbing
  • Substance abuse
  • Isolation

What Can Organizations Do?

There are a number of items that organizations might like to consider in order to prepare for and combat the fallout associated with mental health. To that end, I offer organizations six recommendations to address the broader context of employee mental health.

  • Prioritize workplace mental health
  • Provide a range of mental health resources, support and care 
  • Create and support virtual mental health services
  • Train front line leaders to recognize potential mental health issues
  • Commit to an alcohol / drug policy
  • Invest in the social determinants of health (racism, sex and gender inequality, social exclusion, loneliness)

 What Can Leaders Do?

Even in these uncertain and unstructured times, the role of a leader remains the same; support your team members including supporting mental health in the workplace. The good news is that many of the techniques required to do so are the same ones that make you an effective leader. These techniques include:

  • Communication
  • Transparency
  • Check in with employees regularly
  • Model healthy behaviours
  • Sensitivity to employee needs
  • Proactivity
  • Be an organizational conduit


As much as we might like to return to the way things were – we won’t. Let us use this opportunity to create a mentally healthy workplace culture whereby employees and leaders collaborate to continually improve the health, safety and wellbeing of all employees and sustain the productivity of the business.

Given the fact that we invest one third of our lives at work, the working environment can have a significant impact on our health and wellbeing. A healthy working environment is one in which there is not only an absence of harmful conditions that can cause injury and illness, but an abundance of health promoting ones.

About The Author.

Nicholas Pollice is President of The Pollice Management Consulting Group located in Southern, Ontario, Canada. An international presenter and consultant, he is known as a leader in operations management.  Nicholas conducts programs in leadership, supervision, communication, negotiation and conflict resolution. He has been a consultant since 1989 and is the author of several professional publications. His presentations have been consistently ranked in the top10 % throughout North America. See Nicholas’ bio, his other publications and services on the PMCG. Website at