Mental health is an important issue that impacts us all. From athletes to students to employees, mental illness does not discriminate on who it affects. Mental health is often stigmatized and does not get enough attention, especially in the workplace.

According to Bell Let’s Talk, mental health is the leading cause of workplace disability in Canada, representing 15% of Canada’s burden of disease. The World Health Organization states that the global economy loses $1 trillion per year in productivity due to depression and anxiety. Many aspects of our lives influence our mental health, and the workplace is often a contributing factor.

Negative Work Environments

A negative work environment can have a detrimental impact on your employees’ overall mental health. Two common issues are:

  1. Poor work-life balance
  2. Harassment

Poor Work-Life Balance

According to Mental Health Works, work-life conflict occurs when employees find that their roles within the workplace and outside it are overwhelming them, or interfering with one another. This conflict can make them prone to stress, and while not all stress is bad, excessive stress can lead to depression, anxiety, anger or other mental health challenges, which in turn lead to decreased productivity.


Another cause of excessive stress in the workplace is harassment. Harassment may be blatant, but it can also take on more subtle forms and therefore is not always apparent.

The Government of Canada’s Policy on Harassment Prevention and Resolution defines harassment as:

“improper conduct by an individual, that is directed at and offensive to another individual in the workplace, including at any event or any location related to work, and that the individual knew or ought reasonably to have known would cause offence or harm. It comprises objectionable act(s), comment(s) or display(s) that demean, belittle, or cause personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat. It also includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act (i.e. based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and pardoned conviction).”

The Policy also provides some specific examples of what harassment can look like in the workplace. Learn to recognize and address these behaviours quickly:

  • Compelling the person to perform tasks that are inferior to his/her competencies that demean or belittle him/her, setting the person up for failure, name calling in private or in front of others.
  • Isolating the person by no longer talking to him or her, denying or ignoring his or her presence, distancing him or her from others.
  • Destabilizing the person by making fun of his or her beliefs, values, political and/or religious choices, and mocking his or her weak points.

It’s your responsibility as an employer to understand how the workplace contributes to mental health and ensure you provide a positive and supportive environment.

Positive Work Environments

As an employer, there are steps you can take to ensure a positive workplace:

  1. Educate your staff about mental health risks. The more aware your team is about mental health, the more they will be able to support each other and battle the stigma.
  2. Ensure work-life balance. This could include:
    • Redistributing workload from overwhelmed employees
    • Reducing job-related travel
    • Providing flexible hours or work-from-home arrangements
  3. Work to eliminate workplace harassment. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety recommends having a workplace violence prevention program, which should:
    • Be developed by management and employee representatives.
    • Apply to management, employees, clients, independent contractors and anyone who has a relationship with your company.
    • Define what you mean by workplace bullying (or harassment or violence) in precise, concrete language.
    • Provide clear examples of unacceptable behaviour and working conditions.
    • State in clear terms your organization’s view toward workplace bullying and its commitment to its prevention.
    • Precisely state the consequences of making threats or committing acts.
    • Outline the process by which preventive measures will be developed.
    • Encourage reporting of all incidents of bullying or other forms of workplace violence.
    • Outline the confidential process by which employees can report incidents and to whom.
    • Assure no reprisals will be made against reporting employees.
    • Outline the procedures for investigating and resolving complaints.
    • Describe how information about potential risks of bullying/violence will be communicated to employees.
    • Make a commitment to provide support services to victims.
    • Offer a confidential Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to allow employees with personal problems to seek help.
    • Make a commitment to fulfill the prevention training needs of different levels of personnel within the organization.
    • Make a commitment to monitor and regularly review the policy.
    • State applicable regulatory requirements, where possible.


When you focus on creating a positive work environment, both the employees and the company benefit. You will see:

  • improved retention and recruitment, employee engagement, morale, job satisfaction and productivity
  • reduced absenteeism, grievances, health costs, medical leave/disability and workplace injuries

It’s your responsibility as an employer to understand how the workplace contributes to mental health and to ensure you foster a healthy and positive environment. This requires an ongoing commitment to support and care for your team, and that you continually adapt to the changing needs of your employees.

Additional Resources for Employers

There are many resources to guide you in building a work environment people will love. The following are provided by the Government of Canada: