Wellness and mental health initiatives have been proven to improve employee morale, enhance retention rates, and even boost productivity. Read on for expert advice on fostering well-being, compassion, and resilience in the workplace.

In today’s dynamic professional landscape, the discourse around workplace wellness has evolved beyond traditional fitness programs and health benefits with a spotlight on mental health, work flexibility, and the eradication of anxiety stigma. Wellness and mental health initiatives have been proven to improve employee morale, enhance retention rates, and boost productivity, and organizations prioritizing employees’ mental well-being and working to shed stigma in the workplace deserve applause.

Many Canadian workers find their workplace to be the most stressful part of their lives, with many experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety. According to Statistics Canada, people may experience work-related stress due to factors like heavy workloads or balancing work and personal life.

High levels of work-related stress can negatively impact health and lead to lost work hours and revenue. The Statistical Framework on Quality of Employment measures these aspects, with data collected in April 2023 for workers aged 15 to 69 years. Their research found the following.

  • Over 4.1 million employed individuals (21.2%) reported high levels of work-related stress, with primary causes being heavy workloads (23.7%) and balancing work and personal life (15.7%).
  • Women (22.7%) experienced more stress than men (19.7%). Stress levels varied by industry and sex, with notable differences in educational services, retail trade, construction, and other services.
  • The health care and social assistance sector had the highest stress levels (27.3%), exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on work hours and care delivery methods.
  • Core-aged workers (aged 25-54) had higher stress, especially in management (37.3%) and jobs requiring higher education (29.5%). Young workers (15-24) had lower stress rates (8.3%), while those aged 55-69 had a slightly lower prevalence (21.3%) than core-aged workers.
  • In the year before April 2023, 7.5% of employed people took time off for stress or mental health reasons, averaging 2.4 days lost per person.

Over 4.1 million employed individuals reported high levels of work-related stress, with primary causes being heavy workloads and balancing work and personal life.

Fear of Stigma

Stigma and shame prevents many from speaking up about mental health and seeking help. ⁠In a 2019 survey (Ipsos), 75% of people were reluctant or refused to disclose a mental illness to an employer or coworker and were three times less likely to disclose a mental health condition like depression than a physical one like cancer.⁠

Top reasons for this reluctance were stigma, fear of being judged, and fear of negative consequences like job loss. Yet, 76% said they’d be comfortable and supportive of a colleague with a mental illness.

75% of people surveyed were reluctant or refused to disclose a mental illness to an employer or coworker and were 3 times less likely to disclose a mental health condition than a physical one due to stigma and fear of judgment.⁠ Yet, 76% said they'd be comfortable and supportive of a colleague with a mental illness.

A Growing Focus on Mental Health

Companies are increasingly supporting access to therapy for employees, especially in a post-pandemic world. This shift is driven by the economic impact of mental health issues, costing the Canadian economy nearly $50 billion annually. Improving employee mental health reduces disability support requests and absenteeism and boosts productivity.

Beneva, the largest mutual insurance company in Canada, highlights how important it is to address anxiety within your team, as it “allows you to take measures to promote employee well-being and prevent absences and departures,” Team Beneva explains. “You create a healthier and more positive work environment by being more informed on anxiety symptoms, possible causes, and best practices for helping those dealing with it.”

“Psychologically safe work environments enable productive conversations around needs, priorities, available resources, and healthy boundaries,” says Dr. Melanie Badali, a Registered Psychologist certified in the practice of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) by the Canadian Association of Cognitive and Behavioural Therapies, as well as a member of Anxiety Canada’s Scientific Advisory Committee.

Dr. Matthew Chow, Chief Mental Health Officer at TELUS Health echoes this in a new episode of #OurAnxietyStories: “It’s not just about supporting people when they’ve fallen down, or when they’re suffering, or when they’re having difficulty coping,” he explains.

“It’s also about breaking down stigma, preventing challenges and issues in the first place, having psychologically safe workplaces in the first place, so that people can be themselves and mitigate against anxiety.”

As Dr. Chow highlights, a vital shift for workplaces is in challenging the stigma surrounding anxiety and mental health issues. Open conversations, awareness campaigns, and accessible resources create an atmosphere where individuals feel comfortable discussing their challenges without fear of judgment. Breaking down these barriers encourages seeking help, reducing the negative impact of untreated mental health issues on work performance and personal well-being.

Dr. Matthew Chow of TELUS Health: portrait

Balancing Output and Anxiety

Dr. Chow also states that while anxiety can cause suffering, an appropriate amount can be adaptive and helpful if managed well; it is essential to harness anxious energy positively rather than trying to eliminate anxiety entirely.

He also emphasizes the importance of not measuring worth solely by output, sharing that output is “part of what’s important about what we do at work, but that’s not everything, right? We also have intrinsic value as human beings. We also have intrinsic value regardless of what our level of performance is.”

When it comes to balance, work flexibility is pivotal. Embracing flexible work arrangements promotes a healthier work-life balance, reducing stress and enhancing productivity. These arrangements include remote work options, flexible hours, and compressed work weeks.

For employees who deal with anxiety and other conditions, it may feel hard to let go and embrace flexible initiatives or take time to recharge. “Anxiety can trick us into believing that we ‘should’ be working all the time or that breaks are not valuable,” says Dr. Badali. “Be aware of any ways of thinking or mindsets that make it hard for you to recharge. Reclaim your breaks and lunchtime. Pay attention to transitions from work-time to personal-time. Otherwise, it can feel like we are always working, and, paradoxically, never working.”

Leading by Example

Dr. Chow also highlights that supporting employee mental health “is about leadership and transparency.” Leaders who extend compassion, flexibility, and empathy to their reports can help them feel supported and grow within their roles. Additionally, providing constructive feedback that keeps communication positive, including positive body language, and communicates an employee’s strengths helps to reinforce an employee’s psychological safety.

Some tips for leaders to promote psychological safety at work:

  • Promoting inclusion and communicating to an employee that their input matters and their contributions are valued, treating them/their ideas equally regardless of work structure or hierarchy.
  • Learn about your employee and ask how they achieve their best work. Acknowledging and accommodating diverse mental health and learning needs is vital to help them thrive in their role.
  • Express trust in employees and coworkers and empower them by engaging in regular check-ins that offer clear communication and feedback.
  • Schedule time wisely. Scheduling feedback sessions too far in advance will give anxious or struggling people more time to worry about criticism or the unknowns of a meeting; they may play out negative scenarios in their head. The less lead time, the less room for buildup—however, a bit of advanced notice is required so that they have time to mentally prepare.

Dr. Chow reiterates the importance of constructive feedback, stating that, “Feedback from someone that cares about you, cares about your personal growth and development, that’s gold. That is so important, and that person will deliver that feedback in such a way that helps you rather than hurts you.”

“Psychologically safe work environments enable productive conversations around needs, priorities, available resources, and healthy boundaries." - Dr. Melanie Badali

Organizations championing mental health and encouraging transparency and dialogue around it demonstrate a deep understanding of their workforce’s evolving needs. By investing in employee assistance programs, mental health resources, and supportive policies, they show a commitment to holistic well-being and recognize that employees lead busy, fulfilling lives outside of work.

Beneva also champions mental health. Team Beneva states that they “recognize that stress management is a top concern for employees on a daily basis,” adding that “as both an employer and a mutual insurance company, investing in our people also means nurturing a corporate culture that contributes to their overall well-being. This also involves demonstrating the importance we place on this topic by partnering with organizations like Anxiety Canada.”

Prioritizing mental health aligns with creating a more empathetic and inclusive workplace culture. Employees supported in their mental health journeys tend to be more engaged, creative, and resilient, which positively impacts the organization’s growth and success. Organizations that prioritize mental well-being foster thriving, productive, and compassionate work environments. Let’s continue championing these initiatives and applauding those at the forefront.

Thanks to our Action Anxiety Day Mental Health Champions, Beneva and TELUS Health, and our Mindful Partner, Johnson&Johnson, for championing mental health and supporting our mission.

Quick Tips for Reducing Workplace Anxiety

It may sound obvious, but practicing healthy habits can help you feel in control of your mental health.

Get a Good Night’s Sleep: Address sleep problems to improve mental well-being.
Set Realistic Goals: Make goals attainable and break them into smaller steps.
Avoid Perfectionism: Replace self-critical thoughts with realistic ones.
Practice Calm Breathing: Use slow, deep breathing techniques to reduce anxiety.

Find more guides and tips to manage mental health, see our Free Downloadable PDF Resources.

Signs it’s Time to Seek Professional Help

Early intervention can reduce the severity of mental health issues. Key warning signs to watch for include changes in sleep, appetite, and hygiene; feeling unlike yourself; persistent negative feelings; loss of interest in hobbies or socializing; difficulty functioning daily; disruptive thoughts and trouble focusing; and using substances or avoidance to cope. When in doubt, seek help. Intense, excessive, ongoing, or unusual changes in your mental state suggest it’s time to consult a mental health professional.


TELUS Health MyCare: Virtual Counselling

If you’re seeking confidential, one-on-one support for issues in your personal or professional life, TELUS Health MyCare™, a free-to-download app that lets you see a doctor, counsellor, psychologist, or dietitian from your phone, can help!

For a limited time: Don’t miss out on a unique opportunity for no-cost virtual counselling with the TELUS Health MyCare app!⁠

Learn more about this opportunity here.

Woman looking for help with mental health using her phone.