Press Release

Canadian organizations face significant challenges in managing workplace mental health issues

Willis Towers Watson survey finds controlling mental health related absence and disability is a priority

October 17, 2017
| Canada

TORONTO, ON, October 17, 2017 — The Willis Towers Watson survey on mental health reveals that for a majority of respondents, mental health issues generate significant costs related to short and long term disability, workforce absenteeism and productivity loss, as well as to the cost of drugs and psychological counseling services. Driven by the need to mitigate these costs, nearly all of the survey respondents say that improving workforce mental health over the next three years is a priority.

“In an effort to support employee mental health and mitigate organizational costs, employers are focusing efforts on promoting awareness of mental health issues, increasing communication on how to access mental health programs and integrating their initiatives with a larger health and well-being program – including financial well-being,” said Emmanuelle Gaudette, senior consultant, Health Management practice, Willis Towers Watson. “While an increase in promotion and awareness is a step in the right direction, more needs to be done. A mental health strategy that includes processes to detect and support sick or at risk employees is critical to achieving optimal impact.”

The survey results indicate that employer mental health activities, where they exist, are largely focused on stress management, mental health training and financial well-being support. About a third of respondents (36%) currently offer stress management or resilience programs and half are planning to do so in the next three years. Over 40% also offer financial well-being coaching and support.

According to the survey, more than half of the respondents have also taken steps to integrate various health and well-being program components into a larger program. However, finding solutions to resolve mental health related absence and disability, and controlling the associated costs, is still a challenge. A majority of respondents (76%) do not believe their programs are effective at controlling absence and disability costs and 81% do not believe the mental health programs they offer are optimally used by employees.

“While progress is being made to increase awareness of mental health and provide programs that improve employees’ stress management and resilience, more work is needed to control costs associated with employee absence,” said Julia Graham, senior consultant and leader of the Canadian Absence and Disability Management practice at Willis Towers Watson. “Our survey shows that employers have not yet tackled the critically important issue of having a mental health disability case management model to address casual absences or disability claims.”

According to Wendy Poirier, Growth leader for the Health & Benefits practice for Willis Towers Watson in Canada, “The gaps in employer strategies to mitigate some of the most significant impacts of mental health issues is surprising. Absence and disability costs, in addition to lost productivity due to presenteeism, far outweigh pharmacy and paramedical costs. To effectively manage mental health costs in the future, organizations must begin to develop a broader, more holistic strategy that includes building a culture of health and well-being that addresses the varying needs of their employees and their families.”

About the survey

The 2017 Flash Survey on Mental Health explored employers’ perspectives on mental health and how Canadian organizations will prioritize strategy development and benefit plan design over the next three years. The survey was completed by 152 respondents representing the major industries and regions of Canada.

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 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. 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