A new report suggests that nearly two-fifths of Canadian workers are concerned about a co-worker's mental health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Morneau Shepell's monthly Mental Health Index, 36 per cent of Canadians indicated that they were concerned about a fellow employee’s mental well-being.
The report, released Wednesday, suggests that the Canadian workforce may be at risk of "detrimental long-term mental health effects" amidst the pandemic.
The report also found that 35 per cent of supervisors said they were concerned about the mental health of their employees and 27 per cent reported that their employees are less productive than they were pre-pandemic.
For small business owners like Kristina Sung, who runs a chocolate shop, the emotional toll of the pandemic can be overwhelming.
“I thought I was immune to this at first because I've dealt with anxiety my whole life,” Sung told CTV News on Wednesday.
For her, pandemic-induced anxiety translates into a feeling of tiredness she can’t seem to shake.
“I’m feeling the exhaustion of having to work to keep on top of keeping COVID out, keeping COVID depression out.”
Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total wellbeing at Morneau Shepell, said one of the biggest challenges facing employers during the COVID-19 pandemic is finding a balance between the effort and impact of employee productivity.
Allen noted in a press release that Morneau Shepell is seeing positive productivity numbers overall, however, she says it’s a result of working overtime, which has its own negative consequences.
"At a granular level, productivity levels are actually decreasing. Putting in more hours results in less time for rest and self-care and the moment those stop being a priority, employee mental health suffers -- as do business bottom lines," Allen said.
"This demonstrates that employee well-being must be a priority in order to ensure sustainability and ultimately, business continuity," she added.
In addition to concerns over fellow employee's mental well-being, the index found that ongoing non-essential travel restrictions are "increasingly blurring the lines between work and home life."
According to the report, nearly half (46 per cent) of respondents did not use all of their vacation time in 2020, compared to 36 per cent who said they did use all of their allotted time off.
"This a significant factor in terms of employee mental health, as individuals without paid time off have the lowest mental health score (-12.6) when compared to those who are using all their vacation time (-12.0) and those who are not using all their vacation time (-10.9)," the report said.
Vancouver-based psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang said many Canadians may be experiencing “a collective form of stress.” For those struggling, she suggests focusing on a positive mindset and looking for silver linings in everyday life.
“Let’s take the time to slow down, be less busy. We don't have as many places to go. And really focus on self-care: routine regular sleep, exercise, time in nature and your hobbies and interests,” Kang said.
MENTAL HEALTH IMPACTS
Morneau Shepell's overall Mental Health Index for December was down for the ninth consecutive month, with the index hitting its lowest point since the organization began tracking Canadian's mental health in April 2020.
The reading in December dropped 11.8 points from its pre-2020 benchmark of 75 due to worsening psychological health, depression and workplace productivity, showing that the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the mental well-being of Canadians.
While some have adjusted to working from home and following public health measures, Stephen Liptrap, president and CEO of Morneau Shepell, said that "ongoing economic uncertainties and anxieties related to work and personal life continue to plague Canadians."
"Our collective mental health is at significant risk. It has never been more critical to make a conscious effort to support ourselves and each other and for employers to emphasize mental health and physical health equally in order to ensure employees feel heard and supported as the pandemic continues," Liptrap said in the release.
The index also monitors sub-scores against the pre-pandemic benchmark, including financial risk, psychological health, isolation, work productivity, anxiety, depression and optimism.
When compared to November's report, Morneau Shepell found that all sub-scores decreased except for financial risk, which improved by 0.3 points.
According to the report, optimism (-1.8), isolation (-1.4) and psychological health (-3.3) have worsened the most when compared to levels recorded in April 2020.
Psychologist Dr. Tali Shenfield also warns that anxiety rates among children and adults are skyrocketing, and she is especially concerned about younger children due to the lack of professional help during the pandemic.
Most public and private mental health services have now switched to online therapy only. Online therapy may work for adults and adolescents, but it is highly inefficient with younger children, she says.
BRAND LOYALTY IN RESPONSE TO PANDEMIC, SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES
Morneau Shepell's December report also found that a company's treatment of its employees and customers, along with how it responds to social justice issues, are "essential" to brand loyalty.
According to the index, 57 per cent of respondents said the way they think about and interact with brands and companies has been influenced by how their employees have been treated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The index reported that customer treatment also plays a major role in brand loyalty, with 63 per cent of those surveyed indicating that how an organization has treated its customers amid the health crisis has influenced the way they think about and interact with its brands.
The report noted this could have "immediate and long-lasting impacts" on a company’s success.
Additionally, 41 per cent of respondents said how they interact with brands and companies has been influenced by their response to social justice issues, including the surge in anti-Black racism awareness following the death of George Floyd in June 2020.
The report suggests that consumer perception in response to social justice issues was especially impacted for individuals under the age of 40 (51 per cent), in comparison to those age 40 and older (37 per cent).
Morneau Shepell's latest monthly index is based on a survey with 3,000 responses collected online between Nov. 20 and Nov. 30. All respondents reside in Canada and were employed within the last six months, according to the index.
The company added that online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.
Morneau Shepell says the data has been "statistically weighted" to ensure the regional and gender composition of the sample reflects Canada's population.