And this goes beyond productivity – it's now a major legal matter for companies, says Martin Shain, a specialist in employment law at the University of Toronto and co-author of Preventing Workplace Meltdown. In particular, courts have cracked down on work conditions that cause chronic stress, excessive demands or bullying behaviour by managers, and unpaid overtime that takes a mental toll.
“The legal hassles are getting worse every year,” says Dr. Shain, who is helping to develop standards so employers can avoid potential threats to mental health. “This is the equivalent of 150 years ago: We started having factory laws to protect people's physical well-being; now, we are trying to protect people's psychological well-being.”
But the big hurdle remains persuading employees who need treatment to seek it. “Most people will keep that to themselves until the seams burst in some incident at work that is disruptive,” he says. “And yet ... we could have prevented it.”
Attitudes about mental illness and the workplace
54 Percentage of respondents to a Conference Board of Canada survey who said their chances of promotion would suffer if their bosses learned they had a mental-health problem.
27 Yet only half as many who have faced mental illness and told the boss feel they’ve lost promotions and pay raises as a result.
59 Percentage who feel that their immediate supervisor cares about their mental well-being.
34 Not nearly so many believe that their employers have policies to promote mental health (33 per cent disagreed; the final 33 per cent were unsure)
81 Percentage of managers who say they would feel comfortable discussing a mental-health issue with an employee.
48 Far fewer respondents believe proper accommodations are made for staff with mental-health issues (the figure plummets for those who have actually required such accommodations).
59 Respondents who believe their employers actively support staff who return to work after a mental illness.
Source: Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces, a 2011 report by the Conference Board of Canada
Erin Anderssen is a Globe and Mail feature writer.