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How many employees miss work each week in Canada because of a mental-health issue?

The correct answer is approximately 500,000. A mental-health issue doesn't mean a person has a mental illness. They can miss work because of life stressors such as financial troubles, relationship difficulties and work-related stress. Mental health can be defined by a person's general sense of well-being and happiness.

The typical full-time employee sleeps an average of eight hours a night. Including commuting and work time, in a typical week they spend 50 hours focused on work, representing approximately 45 per cent of their waking hours. It only makes sense that this much time and focus on work can have both a positive and negative impact on their overall mental health.

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One factor that influences employees' mental health is their workplace experience with their direct manager, whose words and actions can affect their mental well-being.

  • Negative examples: Setting unreasonable work-demand expectations; creating uncertainty through lack of feedback; and facilitating distrust by a lack of interaction, rapport-building and conversations. An employee’s risk of being negatively affected is increased exponentially when they’re unable to self-advocate and lack coping skills.
  • Positive examples: A leader makes an effort to get to know each employee; constantly checks in with employees to see how they’re doing and what they need; is always open and happy to see team members; and is approachable to address employees’ questions and needs.

Using coaching skills to facilitate mental health in the workplace

Coaching skills provide leaders with tools to facilitate safe and productive two-way conversations for achieving targeted goals and desired results. Some of the core skills that support leaders include: empathy, finding employee strengths, asking open questions, building trusted relationships, giving meaningful feedback and improving communication skills.

In fact, one research study found the single most important core competency for highly effective leaders is coaching. The study authors reinforced the benefits of coaching and its impact on employees in their roles, because it was found that 70 per cent of learning happens on the job.

How true are the following two assertions for your organization today?

  • Many leaders were promoted to manager because of their subject matter expertise, tenure, operational and financial excellence, or some combination of these.
  • Seldom were leaders evaluated, or even asked, if they like working, interacting and communicating with people, and supporting employees’ development, learning and success. Why? Either it’s assumed, not thought of, or perhaps people skills are not valued as being critical for success.

If you agree with these assertions, one approach to remove any assumptions and to help leaders develop their people and coaching skills to support employees' mental health, engagement and productivity is to provide those who have gaps an opportunity to learn how to develop their coaching skills.

Do you agree that one of the most important factors for every employee is their direct relationship with their manager? Leaders who agree with this statement and are aware of and take responsibility for their words and actions are the ones who are more likely interested and motivated to do all they can to support employees and understand how their words and actions can support employees' job fulfillment and mental health.

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Tips for preparing and investing in coaching skills for leaders

  • Define the key numbers needed to complete an ROI analysis at the end of the coaching skills training: The cost to train leaders in coaching skills can vary, based on the learning method chosen.

Consider the following case study: Company ABC was experiencing 25-per-cent employee turnover. Exit interviews uncovered excessive work demand and negative employee-manager interactions as root causes. Replacement costs for exiting employees were found to be 1.5 times an average salary of $70,000. The coaching method chosen to support managers was a three-month, one-on-one coaching program that included unlimited coaching, curriculum and software, at a cost of $5,000 per leader, each of whom had on average 15 direct reports. To coach 10 leaders who oversee 150 employees, the investment was $150,000. Each leader was given a target of retaining one full-time employee over the next 12 months, which would save the company $1.05-million in staff-replacement costs.

  • Get leaders’ buy-in: Before training a leader in coaching skills, it’s of value to get their buy-in. This can be done by educating them about how coaching skills can make their job easier and strengthen their effectiveness with their work force. Too often, leaders are sent to training without understanding why. Leaders who are open to learning, are willing to make changes and are committed to helping their employees thrive are ready to embrace and learn coaching skills. Once they agree and buy in, ensure that they’re clear on the goal and what defines success.
  • Pick the best learning strategy for each leader – There’s a difference between educating and learning. Information doesn’t equal learning. Most leaders have a preferred learning style. Some enjoy classrooms, some prefer online and some like learning one-on-one. It’s often best to match the learner to their desired learning method whenever possible.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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