Press Release

Eighty-five percent of Canadian employers say stress is the number-one workplace issue

Disconnect between employers and employees on causes of stress could undermine efforts to address the problem

June 29, 2016
| Canada

TORONTO, June 29, 2016 — A majority (85%) of Canadian employers ranked stress as their top health and productivity concern, but employers and employees disagreed on its causes, according to surveys by Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW). Employers and employees had two factors in common in their top three choices: inadequate staffing, which employees ranked number one and employers ranked number three; and excessive amounts of organizational change, which was ranked number three by employees and number two by employers. Opinions diverged after that—on some points, dramatically.

These findings are based on responses from 111 Canadian employers in Willis Towers Watson’s global 2015/2016 Staying@Work Survey and more than 2,000 Canadian employees in Willis Towers Watson’s 2015/2016 Global Benefit Attitudes Survey. Survey results further reveal that employer opinions regarding key workplace stressors tended to fall into one of two categories: large organizational issues such as change; and ubiquitous technology connections that can make employees feel that they are always on the job. In contrast, employees pointed more directly to specific elements of their personal work experience as key stressors. For example, employees cited low pay as the second leading cause of stress, while employers ranked low pay as 12th on a 14-item list. Employees also ranked organization culture—including a lack of teamwork and a tendency to avoid accountability—as the fourth highest cause of stress, while employers ranked it at number 10. Conversely, employers identified insufficient work/life balance as the top stressor for workers, while employees ranked it at number eight.

“To address the issue of workplace stress, employers first need to identify the root causes from the employee’s point of view,” said Julia Graham, Canadian Division Leader, Absence, Disability & Health Management at Willis Towers Watson. “If workplace strategies are based on inaccurate assumptions, employers run the risk of spending money on initiatives that won’t solve the problem and may alienate employees in the process.”

“Our research shows that stress can be attributed to both workplace and personal issues,” added Graham. “When it comes to the workplace, employers will likely find that most workplace stressors can be addressed by local management—for example, responding to staffing issues, clearly defining roles and expectations and ensuring the right people are in leadership roles.”

Employers and employees disagree on major causes of stress

Employers and employees disagree on major causes of stress

“Even with workplace improvements that support better health and productivity, the everyday demands of work and life can still cause some level of stress for some employees,” said Wendy Poirier, Willis Towers Watson’s Canadian Health and Benefits Leader. “Employers can help by offering employee support tools such as a customized mental health solution that gives employees access to information and resources to help build the skills they need to become more resilient and mitigate the negative effects of stress.”

Other notable survey findings include:

  • While most employees want to reduce stress and improve their health, more than half don’t want their employer to have access to their personal health information.
  • More than one-third don’t trust their employer when it comes to their health and well-being.
  • Employees tend to choose one of two options to deal with their stress: 1) connecting with friends, family members and colleagues, or 2) pursuing activities such as exercise; stress-reduction techniques; or sedentary activities, including indulging in comfort foods or watching TV
  • Less than one third of employees seek external help from a professional or use such services provided by their employer.

About the surveys

The 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey was completed between May and July 2015 in North America, Latin America, Europe, Middle East and Asia by 1,669 employers. The survey captures details on each organization’s health and well-being strategy and programs in their respective local markets. Additionally, 42 multinational companies responded to a complementary survey, capturing the perspective of the global headquarters. In total, the data include responses from 34 countries/markets. The countries with the most number of responses are: the U.S., 487; Mexico, 118; Canada, 111; Philippines, 91; Indonesia, 66; and China, 65. Seventy-three percent of respondents operate in multiple countries and respondents are in all major industry sectors.

The 2015/2016 Willis Towers Watson Global Benefit Attitudes Survey examines employees’ attitudes toward their health and retirement benefits. Conducted in 19 economies between June and September 2015, the survey was completed by 30,000 employees, including more than 2,000 in Canada, representing all job levels and major industry sectors. The margin of error for the total sample is ± 1.3%.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW ) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 39,000 employees in more than 120 territories. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at

Media contact

Related solutions

En français