Skip to main content

Natalie Archibald, vice-president of people at Clio, in Burnaby, B.C., on Nov. 29.DARRYL DYCK

Employees at Clio can take their dogs to work and have access to a flexible paid time-off program. Staff at Schneider Electric Canada can save up their paid time off that the company will augment for a paid leave of absence down the road. And Capital One gives its employees an “Invest in Yourself” day every month to do whatever recharges their souls.

These are just some examples of what employers across Canada are doing to prevent burnout among employees and help them manage their mental health.

The Burnaby, B.C., headquarters of Clio has a yoga studio, a games lounge, community gardens and libraries. In addition, the company provides every employee with $2,000 a year for counselling services and a monthly wellness allowance.

But the jewel in Clio’s wellness crown is the flexible paid-time-off program launched this year. Instead of allotting vacation time by years of service, the legal practice management software company allows for flexibility at employees’ discretion. For example, need six weeks of vacation next year? Fine, maybe offset it by taking less time off this year or in 2024.

“We don’t have a lot of guardrails in terms of how much or how frequently an employee needs time off,” says Natalie Archibald, Clio’s vice-president of people. “When people need time off, they can take it.”

Company leaders want staff to lean into their work while on the clock and ensure their time off is meaningful, says Ms. Archibald, a registered clinical counsellor.

Since launching the program in January, 2022, Clio has seen a 108-per-cent increase in vacation being taken, with 43 per cent of employees taking more than one week every quarter.

It’s what they want to see, Ms. Archibald says. She says many employees weren’t using their vacation time before the program and throughout the pandemic.

“We believe that plays a huge role in burnout,” she says. “We’re seeing people start to activate flexibility in their own lives and fewer cases of burnout actually being reported because they’re able to manage through the structures we have.”

Clio officer interiors.DARRYL DYCK

A study released earlier this year found one in three working Canadians felt burned out. The report, conducted by Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) for Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, warned that anxiety and exhaustion are at an all-time high for many workers.

The World Health Organization’s international classification of diseases diagnostic manual defines burnout as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

It can lead to physical and psychological challenges, says Marie-Helene Pelletier, a psychologist and counsellor with expertise in burnout. She says symptoms can include anxiety, decreased work performance, exhaustion and cynicism. In addition, people suffering from burnout may be unable to concentrate and make decisions.

On the more severe end of the spectrum, sufferers may constantly worry and feel on edge or even have suicidal thoughts, she explains. They may be away from work more often and eventually leave their jobs. Physically, it can lead to gastric and cardiovascular problems and a higher vulnerability to illness, Dr. Pelletier says.

The reported rate of burnout is likely lower than the actual rate, she adds.

“Because burnout is an occupational phenomenon, the first place to address burnout is in the work context,” says Dr. Pelletier, who is also an executive coach. “Workplaces should be putting psychological health and safety, including burnout prevention, at the top of their priorities.”

Clio’s Ms. Archibald says some companies may be reluctant to loosen the reins, but notes her company brought in more than US$100-million in revenues last year and has grown from 450 employees in March, 2020, to more than 900 today. Clio’s leaders believe investing in employees is a big part of the company’s success to date.

“We’re trying to debunk this idea that providing flexibility and autonomy for employees to manage their energy and their needs are going to somehow yield to negative performance or impact business results,” Ms. Archibald says. “That’s just simply not true for us.”

At Capital One, leaders noticed employees were requesting leave more frequently during the first couple years of the pandemic, sometimes related to the virus itself but also just to travel or volunteer, says Becca Mintz, vice-president at Capital One Canada.

In response, the company rolled out its formalized “Take Some Time” program this September, which gives staff up to six months of leave to “just press pause,” during which their role is held for them, she says.

“This could include spending more time with their family, volunteering in their community, or even taking that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Patagonia,” Ms. Mintz says.

The company also offers $3,000 a year in psychology benefits for its employees and their dependants and one day a month for employees to dedicate time to focus on well-being and mental health. It’s about supporting work-life balance, she says.

“This is what we strive for as an organization, given employee happiness and engagement are highly correlated to business performance,” she adds.

The same sentiment led Schneider Electric Canada to introduce its “Recharge Break Program” last year, described as a “savings plan” for a paid leave of absence. Employees can purchase up to 12 weeks of extra paid leave time, with costs shared by the company. Employees who opt-in will have a small deduction in paid hours over a year, for up to three years, that they bank for future use.

For example, an employee who has worked at the company for less than five years may bank eight days of paid time off in a year. The company will contribute two additional paid days. For an employee with more than five years at the company, Schneider Electric will contribute two days of paid time off for every three days the employee banks. After three years, they have at least six weeks of paid time for a leave of absence, during which they continue to be enrolled in company benefits.

About 18 per cent of employees opted in last year and about 15 per cent this year, says Claire Guichard, the company’s vice-president of human resources. It is just one of several programs Schneider Electric started in response to pandemic-related stress and burnout, she says.

“We’ve been in a really challenging period of time, and we wanted some interesting programs for the employees to have additional time off and to recharge … to balance between personal and professional,” she says.


Clio’s leaders believe investing in employees is a big part of the company’s success to date.DARRYL DYCK

Worker burnout is not easing despite lifted pandemic restrictions

The pandemic shutdowns may be over but burnout among Canadian workers hasn’t improved, mental-health experts warn.

A year ago, Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC) surveyed 5,500 working Canadians about well-being in the workplace and found 35 per cent of those polled reported feeling burned out.

It is one of the mental-health parameters tracked by the organization on a continuing basis, says Michael Cooper, vice-president of development and strategic partnerships at MHRC.

And, he says, the results are not good.

The most recent data from last month show 33 per cent of Canadian workers still report feeling burned out.

“Burnout is not improving as we come out of the pandemic, in any shape or form,” he says.

In some sectors, the burnout rate is critical, he says. Specifically, 66 per cent of nurses’ report feeling burned out and 61 per cent of mental-health workers have the same issue.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health estimates the economic cost of mental illness in Canada is more than $50-billion annually; $6.3-billion of that is the result of lost workplace productivity.

Yet only 35 per cent of the workers surveyed by MHRC last year said they had access to programs to prevent burnout, and just 40 per cent said they had help from their employers to cope with workplace stress.

“It is such a critical issue because it has a significant financial drag on our economy. Until we start addressing some of these mental-health challenges, it’s going to continue to do so,” Mr. Cooper says.

The burnout rate among nurses is particularly disturbing, says Mary Ann Baynton, the director of collaboration and strategy for the organization Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.

The syndrome results from long-time workplace stress, says Ms. Baynton, an advocate for what’s known as “quiet quitting.”

“You do just what you’re paid to do. You no longer hustle; you no longer go the extra mile,” she explains. “I know a lot of people say that’s terrible, but if you’re going to stay in the job you’re in when you’re burned out, that is the only way that you can start to get that energy back. People who just keep pushing themselves are not going to recover.”

Ultimately, it is much better to prevent burnout than try to treat it, she says. While workers need to take action for themselves, it is also the job of leaders, she adds.

“We can do a much better job preventing burnout in organizations.”