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Indeed’s 2021 Workplace Happiness Study shows unhappiness at work is the second most common reason why people quit their jobs, behind not being paid enough. Still, 97 per cent of respondents believe it is possible to find joy on the job.

In the current labour market, with the ongoing talent shortage, employers must make worker happiness a top priority to drive both recruitment and retention, says Scott Bonneau, vice-president of talent acquisition at Indeed, the world’s #1 job site.

“It’s going to be important for businesses to remain competitive for talent but there’s also a lot of research that shows that employee well-being is critical to productivity too,” Mr. Bonneau says.

There’s a return on investment (ROI) for employers who take care of employee well-being, Mr. Bonneau says.

Increasing workplace well-being

The growing awareness of the importance of wellness in the workplace, both physical and mental, is one silver lining to the pandemic, says Katharine Coons, national workplace mental health specialist at the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

“Mental health and mental illness in the workplace have always been there, of course, but the pandemic has put it in the limelight,” she says.

Employers are responding by shoring up mental health and wellness support, in part to attract top talent, but Ms. Coons says it’s also because it has become unignorable that employees are struggling with mental health in the workplace.

“It used to be a nice-to-have for organizations, but it’s now a need-to-have,” says Ms. Coons, who provided 70 mental health training sessions and seminars to about 60 different workplaces in 2021. “I think we’ve experienced too much to go back to the way that things were and we’re seeing that shift across organizations.”

She suggests Canadian employers and managers begin by reviewing the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, a toolkit of voluntary guidelines, tools and resources developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. MHCC is a national non-profit organization created by the Canadian government in 2007 that studies mental health, mental illness and addiction and provides training. The toolkit outlines 13 risk factors in the workplace, such as psychological and social support, organizational culture and workload management.

“It’s a pretty clear-cut way for organizations to say, ‘These are these 13 things I should be looking at,’” Ms. Coons says.

The ROI of mental health measures

Research shows that investments in mental health and well-being in the workplace pay off.

In September, the Calgary-based Institute of Health Economics, in partnership with Alberta Blue Cross, released a review of Alberta Blue Cross’s digital wellness programs used by more than 360,000 plan members. It found 81.5 per cent of participants reported health improvements.

The review also found a corresponding 14 per cent drop in the number of Blue Cross extended benefits claims. The researchers were unequivocal about the results: There is a solid return on investment for workplace wellness in terms of less illness and higher productivity.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) has certainly found this to be the case. UBC’s human resources department has a specific full-time workplace well-being program specialist to implement the university’s well-being strategic plan, including promoting a culture of health and wellbeing on campus and within the broader community.

“We know that in order for people to do the work that they do, to be successful, to study well, that they have to be well,” says Truelove Twumasi-Afriyie, the workplace well-being program’s specialist at UBC.

UBC launched the well-being strategic framework five years ago with six priority areas: collaborative leadership, mental health and resilience, food and nutrition, social connection, built and natural environmental and physical activity.

Mental health is a key pillar, and strategies include workshops and programs produced and delivered in collaboration with the MHCC, like Mental Health First Aid. It’s like a traditional first aid course but focuses on providing immediate care to someone who may be experiencing a decline in their mental well-being or a mental health crisis.

The program has a host of activities – 52 this year alone – ranging from staff yoga and a mindfulness meditation challenge to bike sharing and department community gardens. Over the past two years, a lot of it has turned virtual and it continues to be popular, Ms. Twumasi says.

The program also takes proposals from staff. Ms. Twumasi says it’s important to create programs employees want.

“My advice would be to go to your employees and the people that really create your organization. There is a lot of expertise and knowledge and a lot of ideas,” she says. “The feedback we get is always really, really positive.”

A window into workplace well-being

Indeed’s Work Happiness Score is determined by ratings from current and former employees. With more than six million happiness surveys completed worldwide, the Work Happiness Score can help job seekers understand worker well-being at different organizations.

“We want to help job seekers find work environments where they can thrive over time and not feel like they have to burn themselves out in order to do well or be secure in their jobs,” Mr. Bonneau says. “We feel by helping both employers and job seekers understand how employees feel about being happy at work, that’s going to increase sustainability.”

“There’s a growing trend among employers towards wellness initiatives such as flexibility in work arrangements, paid time off, organized volunteer opportunities, sabbatical programs and rest and relaxation time,” Mr. Bonneau adds.

“You can try something as simple as no-meeting Fridays, where everybody can just have a clear calendar and an opportunity to put their head down and do work,” Mr. Bonneau says.

Indeed implemented monthly “You Days” during the pandemic, when all employees get the same day off at once, in addition to their existing personal time off allowance. The perk was implemented after the company noticed a marked drop in employees taking time off after the pandemic lockdowns started in early 2020.

“The onus is on managers to not just manage the output and the outcomes of their teams, but also make sure that their teams are really in a good spot from a health and well-being standpoint,” Mr. Bonneau says.


Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Indeed. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.