This report is published by Environics Research following a Canada-wide survey, conducted to understand the challenges expected by HR leaders and how they can be supported by organizations to maintain a healthy and productive workforce. The research was commissioned by Dialogue.
The 2023 survey was completed by 98 Canadian HR leaders (those with decision-making responsibilities about employee benefit plans) between January 17 and February 2, 2023. These HR leaders collectively influence and manage health and wellness benefits for over 50,000 employees.
The top challenges HR leaders expect for 2023 are rooted in talent attraction and retention. While staffing is a human resources issue, it can lead to greater organizational challenges, such as lack of resources, productivity, innovation, collaboration, customer relationships, and business development.
HR leaders are aware of their employees’ poor mental state, and how it influences retention and acquisition. However, they also acknowledge that the mental health support currently available through benefits plans is insufficient.
It’s important for organizations to recognize the impact they have on their employees’ health and well-being, and realize that needs are changing. To create a healthier, more positive, and stable workforce, it’s crucial to focus on all aspects of well-being – including emotional, environmental, physical, social, and financial health.
Unfortunately, HR leaders often lack the organizational and financial backing to make changes. The good news? Those that have successfully implemented well-being initiatives report better job satisfaction, a more positive work environment, increased productivity, and better retention.
Over the past three years, HR professionals have had to navigate an ever-changing workplace and a heavily impacted workforce. Looking forward to 2023, they indicate facing a number of challenges, with most of them interrelated and affecting each other.
*Darker colours represent those who reported the issue to be extremely challenging, and lighter colours represent those who reported the issue to be somewhat challenging.
While attracting and retaining talent is the most challenging area, an organization’s ability to do so is impacted by other workforce issues: overworked employees, mental health, well-being, absenteeism due to health issues, and overall job satisfaction.
What’s more, the impact of mental health issues on physical health is well-studied. While worsening physical health is not currently concerning for the majority, untreated mental health issues can lead to chronic physical conditions – which can have organizational ramifications in the form of low productivity, absenteeism, and more.
Almost all HR leaders believe that physical health, mental health, financial circumstances, and work-life balance contribute to overall well-being – and Canadians agree. This suggests that HR leaders are well aware of the well-being needs of their employees, and are expecting to face challenges in meeting these needs.
*Darker colours represent those who reported the issue to be very important, and lighter colours represent those who reported the issue to be important.
Talent attraction and retention are symptoms of a much bigger problem. When employees feel overworked, struggle with mental health and well-being, and have low job satisfaction, they may be more likely to jump ship.
This means that employers who are unable to mitigate these well-being issues may have a harder time attracting top talent.
Employers striving to grow their workforce need to reconsider their benefits plans and workplace culture. HR leaders should ask themselves:
Employers have a significant role to play in employee mental health, especially those adopting a hybrid (home and office) model. 31% of HR leaders who have a remote workforce believe that employees face worsened mental health. Poor mental health has significant negative effects on workplace relationships, productivity and motivation, energy, and employee retention.
In a 2023 survey of Canadians, almost 4 in 10 remote workers noticed mental health issues associated with working from home.
There is further evidence that HR leaders are concerned with the mental health of their employees.
Plus, 87% agree that providing proactive mental health support can help prevent mental health issues or treat them before they get worse.
Despite recognizing the importance of promoting and supporting good mental health, 5 in 10 HR leaders (48%) report that their employee benefits programs do not provide access to a mental health professional. Another 4 in 10 believe their current mental health support is insufficient (29%) or is non-existent (14%). And working Canadians agree at similar rates.
With the importance HR leaders place on prevention, there are opportunities to provide more support than traditional access to a psychotherapist – who are often consulted when mental health issues are already present.
of HR leaders agree that mental health tools and resources that employees can use themselves would facilitate proactive self-care.
of Canadians agree that self-guided tools could help them be more proactive about mental health, and they would be likely to use such tools.
7 in 10 employers have not provided sufficient training to managers to help them recognize and support employees’ mental health needs.
Of those, 3 in 10 have not provided any training at all, which means mental health issues may be misunderstood or go unnoticed.
Working Canadians agree – 76% of employees realize that managers have not been sufficiently trained or lack the training.
HR leaders recognize the need for preventative mental health care, and many acknowledge that their current offering is insufficient. To make their offerings more complete, they must provide services that are flexible and accessible.
By offering a variety of resources, like self-guided options for those seeking preventive therapy (including workbooks, toolkits, or digital resources) and access to practitioners for those needing more intense intervention, HR leaders can provide support across the continuum of care.
This means their offering is more likely to be used by more people. Plus, it helps ensure issues are treated before they get worse, reducing the risk of organizational challenges like low retention, reduced productivity, and high absenteeism down the line.
While working from home has its advantages – including better work-life balance and improved relationships – some Canadians indicate that physical health has worsened.
In fact, a majority of HR leaders—over 80%—who notice worsened physical health in their remote or hybrid employees, also observe that there’s a related increase in stress, anxiety, and productivity issues.
However, they also indicate that critical benefits that could help employees stay active and manage these issues are missing from their current plans:
Mental health may be at the forefront, but its impact on physical health (and vice versa) can’t be overlooked. A sedentary lifestyle can increase the risk of stress, burnout, and anxiety. And the opposite is also true. Physical activity is a key part of maintaining good mental health. But it can be difficult to muster the energy or motivation to stay active when dealing with a mental illness.
Employers must ensure that their workforce has access to services that help them manage both. Flexible mental health services support employees with the appropriate level of care for their needs. Inclusive wellness programs encourage regular movement, regardless of employees’ health or fitness level. Together, they can help prevent or delay chronic health conditions, and manage lifestyle changes.
HR leaders agree: good mental and physical health are vital to well-being. But they also recognize the importance of other factors – like financial stability and healthy family relationships – in creating a happy and fulfilled workforce.
While almost all HR leaders are interested in improving employee well-being, a quarter have not taken any initiatives to do so. Organizations that have taken initiatives found them to be helpful – and Canadian employees concur.
This is significant for hybrid and remote workplaces. When employees feel more supported at work and benefit from better relationships, it can have a direct and positive impact on their well-being – and their desire to stay with their employer.
Initiatives, programs, and benefits aimed at promoting employee well-being can enhance an organization's ability to effectively deal with critical HR challenges. For example, when job satisfaction and productivity are improved, employers may be less likely to face talent acquisition and retention issues. In other words, investing in employee well-being is a strategic move that can yield significant long-term benefits.
Remote and hybrid workplaces are here to stay. So, to truly reap the benefits, HR leaders must ensure that employees are able to do their best work. Decentralized work environments are often at risk of losing their sense of organizational belonging, but the right wellness program can reinforce it.
Demonstrate investment in employees, making them feel cared for and connected to the organization
Develop a sense of shared purpose, through fitness classes, wellness challenges, or group activities
Foster a positive workplace culture, by aligning with an organization's values and mission
Ultimately, investing in wellness helps keep employees feeling mentally and physically fit, productive, engaged, and happy — all of which directly impact talent attraction and retention.
Organizations face more than just a human resource challenge when it comes to retaining and attracting talent. An unhealthy workforce can also lead to a cascade of business issues, including lack of resources, reduced productivity, ineffective teamwork, poor customer relationships, and limited business development.
To reduce the far-reaching implications for the organization, HR leaders need to tackle the health and wellness concerns at the root of staffing problems.
While they recognize workforce challenges and seek to address them by improving employee benefits, some find it difficult to secure financial or organizational backing.
Improving benefits is also made difficult by the various stakeholders involved in choosing benefits plans. HR leaders have identified the following as significant influencers:
*Darker colours represent those who reported the issue to very influential, and lighter colours represent those who reported the issue to be somewhat influential.
45% of HR leaders find it difficult to ensure employees make the most of their benefit plans. And, while 9 in 10 HR leaders agree that employees know how to access their benefits, a quarter of employed Canadians disagree. In fact, some employees state that they are not aware of the benefits available to them, or don’t know how to access them. And over 50% of all employees are only somewhat aware.
To further complicate matters, 7 in 10 HR leaders indicate having multiple providers for their benefits. This can result in reduced awareness among employees regarding the full extent of available benefits and how to access them.
Having multiple providers can also limit the ability to track and measure the impact of different programs, making it harder to gain financial and organizational support for improving benefits. A single benefits provider for all programs can alleviate many of these issues.
In fact, over 50% of HR leaders find it challenging to monitor the impact of benefit plans, particularly those related to wellness or mental health. These benefits lack the tangible measures often associated with other benefits, such as prescription coverage, dental insurance, or vision care.
Obtaining leadership and financial support for HR initiatives has proven to be a challenge. To overcome this barrier, HR leaders should consider adopting programs that can demonstrate value, return on investment, and measurable outcomes.
They should seek benefits providers who offer transparent reporting and tracking, with a focus on utilization, health, and engagement metrics. This equips them with the evidence needed to justify investment and gain organizational buy-in. Plus, it helps HR leaders prioritize initiatives that are most likely to succeed and have the greatest impact on workforce wellness.
The right partner can boost employee adoption of benefits programs and support with long term engagement. Opting for a provider that offers a single point of access for all programs further reduces confusion around how to access services and what programs are available. The best part? Increasing utilization and engagement rates can further highlight the need for such programs to stakeholders.
Attracting and retaining talent remains a top challenge in 2023. However, HR leaders recognize the vital role that good physical health, mental wellness, and well-being play in creating a stable, productive, and attractive work environment.
The importance of mental health for overall well-being is widely recognized by employees and employers alike, but many agree that current support is inadequate. To truly meet the needs of their workforce, organizations should consider solutions that empower employees to be in control of their mental health. Self-guided tools and resources that employees can use on their own – without having to consult with a professional – make it easier to access preventative care options quickly.
As organizations prepare to face a host of challenges, both current and looming, they must think outside the box. Employers should opt for programs that are flexible, accessible, and inclusive.
When employees feel that their unique needs and circumstances are taken into account, they’re much more likely to embrace and benefit from such programs. And when that happens, organizations stand to gain as well. With organizational buy-in, HR leaders can continue to expand and improve their offerings to provide even better support for each and every member of their workforce.
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