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Trend 10: Mental health in 2024

Beware of “wellbeing washing”

Published on

January 19, 2024


Note: This post is part of our Special Report: Top 10 people & culture trends for 2024.

Think of what we’ve all been through over the past few years—the pandemic, global conflicts, inflation, recession, layoffs, the devastating effects of climate change… It’s no wonder the top word of the year in 2022 was permacrisis.  

Heading into 2024, we’re more stressed about money and lonelier than ever, sometimes choosing to stay home to save money, a trend called “inflation isolation. Another factor impacting our mental health is our “always-on” mentality. As the lines between home and work become fuzzier, and technology platforms multiply, we never shut off. No wonder nearly seven in 10 workers say they don’t have enough uninterrupted focus time during the workday.

The stats in Canada are alarming (according to a 2023 study by Boston Consulting Group):  

  • One-quarter of Canadians reported symptoms of a mental health disorder in 2021, five million reported needing mental health support, and 35% said they are burned out.
  • About 40% of Canadian workers aged 18 to 24 years are at a mental health “breaking point,” and by the age of 40, half will have experienced some form of mental illness.
  • Work is the number one source of stress for Canadians.  

Why should employers foster mental health?

Healthy, happy employees are more productive and contribute to a positive work culture that attracts talent and boosts retention:

  • Attracting top talent: Twice as many millennials and Gen Z workers as baby boomers say they want a workplace culture that prioritizes mental health and wellbeing. Organizations that lead in these dimensions will have the upper hand in attracting next-gen leaders.
  • Boosting engagement and productivity: The World Health Organization reported in 2022 that an estimated 12 billion working days are lost to depression and anxiety globally, costing US$1-trillion annually in lost productivity. Across Canada, workers with low mental wellbeing miss an average of five days of work each year and do the bare minimum on 37 other days. Companies that support employee wellbeing have seen their productivity improve by an average of 13%.
  • Addressing employee concerns: 75% of Canadians believe it’s a priority for their employers to address mental-health problems in the workplace. However, only 39% of employers say they offer mental-health services, such as flexible scheduling and wellness activities.  

Tips for 2024

  • Avoid “wellbeing washing”: In a nutshell, it means walk the talk. Sure, you might offer yoga at lunch, but if your employees are too overworked to take you up on it, that’s a problem. In fact, a survey by the Institute of Occupational Health and Safety found 51% of employees thought wellbeing washing was a problem in their workplace. Here’s what to do instead:
    Offer real things and remind employees they exist: Offer flexibility, paid time off, parental leave, reiterate your benefits, including access to an EFAP, etc.
    Clarify where to find your mental health support: 80% of those surveyed by Boston Consulting Group said they had trouble accessing mental health resources; 50% were disappointed with quality received.
    Ask and act: Conduct regular wellbeing surveys and act on the feedback.
    Train leaders to be empathetic; encourage them to share about their own mental health and ask their team members about theirs regularly.
    Train employees on how to handle job stress. Boston Consulting Group found that 61% of employees do not receive coaching on how to handle job stress and 65% lack access to programs to prevent burnout.
    Develop a long-term, holistic wellness strategy: Ensure it considers all elements of wellbeing (i.e., financial, emotional, physical, social and workplace).
    Encourage team members to take vacation and disconnect.
    Monitor workloads: In an uncertain economy, some workers might work harder to show they’re valuable. Ensure workloads are manageable and work is distributed equitably rather than loading up your top performers.
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