Mental health is a leadership issue

Workplace stress, burnout, bullying contributing to illness

Mental health is a leadership issue
Renée Gendron


One in five Canadians will personally experience a mental health issue. One-third of Canadian workers are currently experiencing a mental illness. Clearly this is a matter that impacts individuals and workplaces.

People afflicted by mental illness experience difficulty concentrating, adverse effects from medication and higher rates of absenteeism. They also often have trouble re-integrating into teams. Poor mental health negatively impacts productivity. In 2009, it was estimated that unaddressed mental health illnesses cost the Canadian economy $51 billion annually.

Mental health issues tend to be ignored and overlooked because they make people uncomfortable and quite frankly, there is still the perception that mental health issues are a matter of choice and not actual illnesses.

By demonstrating leadership on the matter, employers can create a healthier, more productive workplace.

What is important to note is that for every $1 an employer puts into addressing mental health issues, there is close to 500 per cent return on investment. Yes — 500 per cent!

In a time when employers are struggling to attract and retain talent, having a robust mental health framework is a logical and profitable investment.  

In order to have these conversations, leaders need:

•earnest support from senior management to address the matter

•dedicated resources (time, budget, authority to get people at a table, authority to implement recommendations, meeting space)

•a strong personal desire to have the matter addressed

•factual information about mental health and its impact on individuals and companies.


In order to have meaningful conversations about mental health, leaders throughout the organization need to start addressing how the workplace creates and exacerbates mental health issues. Such factors include stress, empathy fatigue, burnout, problems with interpersonal relationships in the form of conflict and workplace bullying, and creating a culture of openness for employees to be able to discuss these matters. Sometimes factors at home are straining an employee’s resources and damaging their mental health. Such factors include going through a separation, domestic violence and the loss of a loved one. While these events did not occur in the workplace, the employee faces these matters throughout all of the day, whether he is at home or at work.

By addressing mental health issues, employers can improve productivity, lower costs and improve employee retention.