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Addressing Mental Illness at Work

Everyone saw the explosion of commercials for Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign last month, and the efforts behind it are unquestionably commendable. But for all the attention paid to the subject of mental illness, it might still not feel like enough for a suffering employee wrestling with whether to tell her boss about her condition.

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One in five Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. Given that we spend a quarter of our adult existence in the workplace, the employment connection is unavoidable. Indeed, mental illness causes more lost work days than any other chronic condition (82% of long-term disability claims in Canada are related to it), and costs the Canadian economy some $51 billion annually in lost productivity.

Some other stats on depression and the workplace, courtesy of Statistics Canada:

  • employees who consider most of their days to be quite a bit or extremely stressful are over three times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode than those who report low levels of general stress;
  • Canadians with depression report that they function at just 62% of their capacity on the job;
  • 70% of Canadians have had to leave their work for short-term or long-term disability, or permanently.

On the employer side, there’s some expectation and precedent. Employers have a moral duty to support the needs of their staff and so are charged with meeting a raft of obligations to promote mental wellness and safety in the workplace.

But for the folks on the other end of the equation, the protocol isn’t so clear.

Certainly the Supreme Court of Canada says employees are as obligated as their employers to accommodate their own mental health conditions in the workplace. This means coming clean with their superiors (“preferably in writing,” says a recently convened Ontario Human Rights Tribunal) about any conditions that might affect their judgment or ability to perform their job.

Letting your superiors know you’re suffering might seem daunting, particularly given the residual stigma that sticks to this subject, but doing so can deliver relief to feelings of isolation and possibly redirect assumptions about why someone isn’t being productive.

Some tips on seeing it through:

  • Book a meeting with your supervisor in a quiet place.
  • Bring along a doctor’s note, especially if you’re requesting on-the-job accommodations.
  • Be clear about what you need, and offer some practical suggestions for seeing it through.
  • Use language like “disorder,” “medical condition” or “mental illness” rather than “problem” or “issue.”
  • Check in with your EAP or HR department beforehand, in case you find you need their support.

And for the 78% of Canadians worried they’ll lose their job if they reveal their mental illness, well, that’s illegal. With the exception of certain safety-sensitive industries, Canadian employers are not allowed to discipline, demote, dismiss or otherwise discriminate against employees with illnesses or disabilities, and they must attempt to accommodate them instead.

The Future of Jobs is Here. Like, Now.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has just released its Future of Jobs report — and there’s lots of juicy stuff about those technological and sociological drivers poised to reshape the world’s employment scene between the covers.

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Among the document’s most noteworthy revelations? That we’ve entered the age of the “fourth industrial revolution.” While it’s all good for participants in science, tech, engineering and math (including folks working in 3D printing, genetics and biotech, AI, machine learning and nanotech) it’s not so revolutionary for employees whose white-collar and clerical jobs are predicted to be on the serious decline, including women.

Because as much as the report — which surveyed senior execs and chief HR officers in 15 major developed and emerging economies about how jobs in their industries will have changed by 2020— celebrates technological innovation’s increasing part in worldwide employment, it also highlights worrying concern around job shrinkage in those industries predicted to be on the brink of large-scale freefall.

Report highlights include:

  • Swift economic upheaval will put an unprecedented stress on a transitioning labour force, and the result could be a net employment loss of more than 5.1 million jobs in 15 major developed and emerging economies by 2020.
  • Sixty-five percent of children entering primary school today will end up working in jobs that don’t even exist right now.
  • Two-thirds of the jobs anticipated to be lost due to these looming disruptive labour market changes are concentrated in the routine white-collar-office space.
  • The computer, mathematical, architectural and engineering-related fields are predicted to gain two million jobs by 2020.
  • Data analysts and specialized sales representatives will be much in demand.
  • By 2020, more than a third of the desired core skillsets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.
  • Business leaders are aware of these looming challenges, but have been slow to act decisively.
  • During previous industrial revolutions, it often took decades to build the training systems and labour market institutions required to develop major new skillsets on a large scale. The expected pace of this upcoming revolution eliminates this as an option.
  • There needs to be an immediate reinvention of the HR function, such that it enjoys a bigger strategic role in a corporation’s overall gameplay than ever.
  • Businesses and governments need to cultivate a new approach to workforce planning and talent management, central to which has to be better forecasting data and planning metrics.
  • The highly siloed training provided by most existing education systems is increasingly outdated.

In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the WEF report sums up, the ability for businesses, governments and individuals to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical. Otherwise, our ability to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends — and to mitigate undesirable outcomes — is unlikely.