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Julie Gaudry, the head of group benefits at RBC Insurance, says Canadians are placing increasing importance on employer-provided benefits plans amid a tight labour market.Handout

Chris has been working at a Toronto restaurant for the past 10 months. Each week, she pays $65 for a one-hour virtual session with a psychotherapist because her workplace does not provide mental-health benefits as part of its employee assistance program.

Chris is currently looking for another job and says such benefits will be one of the boxes she ticks in considering any offer.

“I think everybody should have such benefits because the pandemic made everything worse,” she said. “Any worker would have a better performance if they have some kind of psychological support.”

A recent national survey by RBC Insurance revealed that young Canadians are highly likely to leave their jobs for one with a better mental-health benefits plan. Seventy-three per cent of employees aged 18-34 and 69 per cent of workers between the ages of 35 and 44 said they would make the leap.

And the most desired benefit among respondents was support for mental health (88 per cent), significantly ahead of a health spending account (80 per cent) and the option to add additional coverage (79 per cent).

Julie Gaudry, the head of group benefits at RBC Insurance, said that amid a tight labour market, Canadians are placing increasing importance on employer-provided benefits plans.

“Market trends today show the need for better employer benefits because if employers are seeking to attract and retain talent, they need to meet their expectations, and one of the things today’s workforce is focused on is support for mental health and competitive group benefits,” she said.

In the wake of disruptions caused by the pandemic and the lingering effects on work environments, mental-health awareness is on the rise and support programs for workers are more common. Workers in almost all sectors are increasingly demanding better mental-health benefits.

Ms. Gaudry said every employer’s package can be unique, with different levels of coverage for prescription drugs and dental care, but mental-health support is an important component of any benefits plan.

Precious Myers, a mental-health expert, said employers are simply not providing enough mental-health benefits. She said an hour-long session at her former workplace cost between $150 and $200 and most benefits packages don’t cover such expensive services.

“Workers who need mental-health services and need to see a therapist often will have no choice than to spend their own money,” she said, adding that employers should provide between $2,000 and $5,000 for individual benefits.

Research by Benefits Canada says the median coverage for mental-health counselling provided by an employer is $750 a year. Its own survey showed that 21 per cent of employers sampled provide between $1,001 and $5,000, while 7 per cent provide a maximum of $5,000.

For the greater part of last year, Emily (The Globe and Mail is identifying some individuals in this story solely by their first names so they could speak candidly about their benefits and health issues), who works at an insurance company in Toronto, spent about $300 each month to see a psychotherapist because she has no mental-health benefits. She said she would leave her job if she were to receive an offer with better benefits.

“There is a mental-health crisis around the world, and it’s only getting worse,” Ms. Myers said. “Frontline workers and people who work in stressful environments need enough mental-health support. Mental health contributes to every other health issue in your body, but some workplaces place less emphasis on it.”

The RBC survey, which had more than 1,000 respondents, recommends that companies prioritize their employees’ mental health and well-being, increase awareness of what their benefits plans cover and ensure their plans meet the needs of their workforces.

Alexandra Petrisano, a national workplace mental-health trainer at the Canadian Mental Health Association, said protecting the mental well-being of workers is not only the right thing to do but a smart business move.

“Workers are motivated to continue when they are psychologically healthy and feel that they are well supported at their workplace,” she said.

Ms. Gaudry said employers can provide mental-health coverage in a variety of ways, including virtual care and online support.

She added that employers need to understand what their employees actually want.

“We know that those who have access to group benefits consistently will rate their job satisfaction and overall level of well-being and mental health higher than their counterparts who don’t have access to such benefits,” she said.

Ms. Gaudry and Ms. Petrisano agree that raising awareness of the benefits available to employees is important.

“A lot of employees are not even aware of what they have access to in their group benefits plan,” Ms. Gaudry said. “A great step is to increase awareness of what they already have access to and how they can use the support available to them.”

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