The sedentary nature of Canadian workplaces is becoming as much of a health risk as stress for many workers.
That's according to a new wellness survey from Sun Life Financial Inc., which found 24 per cent of Canadian employers consider work-related stress and sedentary lifestyles the most serious health risks affecting their employees.
"Stress has been the number one for many years. What we're seeing now [is] that stress is staying very high on the radar for employers, and they're certainly recognizing work-related stress is a key issue, but sedentary lifestyle has now crept up as a key concern and key factor," said Lori Casselman, assistant vice-president of group benefits at Sun Life.
Ninety-two per cent of organizations surveyed recognized that the health of their employees influences overall corporate performance, since healthy employees mean more productivity, better attendance and a stronger bottom line, the report found.
Sapna Mahajan, director of prevention and promotion with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said 500,000 Canadians are absent from work every week due to mental health issues and it's costing the national economy $50-billion a year.
"It's a huge economic cost and it's one that just can't be ignored any more by business," Mahajan said.
The commission set out a national standard earlier this year, which Mahajan hopes companies will use as a guide to both prevent and accommodate mental health issues.
"We're not saying that you're not going to have stresses at work or anxiety," Mahajan said.
"But maybe there are certain things you can put in place – processes, policies, and structures – to try to avoid as much as possible that psychological harm, and to have structures in place so that if people aren't feeling well, there's a way to accommodate them."
She adds that once somebody goes off work, it's harder to get them back.
The Sun Life study found that 62 per cent of the companies surveyed offer wellness initiatives, with 51 per cent reporting an increase in employee morale and a 40 per cent drop in absenteeism as a result of such programs.
But in order for such initiatives to work, Casselman says employers must promote them so that employees take advantage of the programs, and also provide rewards to those who do participate.
"Programs that are offered in the workplace are largely very well received by employees if they're offered in the right way, with the right incentives," she said.
The Sun Life Buffett National Wellness Survey was conducted over the spring and summer of 2013, with a national sample of 400 Canadian employers representing public, private and not-for-profit organizations ranging in size from less than 100 employees to more than 2,500.