Mental Health: Central to Sun Life’s Business Strategy

On November 18, the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal played host to the President and CEO of Sun Life Quebec, Robert Dumas.

In his first address to the Chamber, before an audience of 200 at the Hotel Bonaventure Montréal, Mr. Dumas discussed the impact of mental health on Quebecers and explained how mental health problems affect businesses.

Mental health: the leading cause of disability in Canada

While Quebec is starting to find some form of normalcy in the pandemic, the long-term consequences of the crisis on the mental health of Quebecers and workers are showing. Mr. Dumas remarked that the deterioration of mental health among Quebecers is a worrisome issue for businesses, with 500,000 employees absent from work for mental health reasons. The leading culprits are anxiety, stress, depression, and substance dependence.

“Mental health problems affect people from every culture and origin.” – Robert Dumas

He also said he is concerned about the high number of people reporting mental health problems despite health measures being relaxed, the vaccination campaign, and schools reopening. Mr. Dumas believes that all of society – companies included – is facing a major crisis that affects people, of course, but potentially the economy.

A major issue for Quebec businesses

According to a survey conducted by Sun Life, one in ten workers has left their jobs because of a lack of mental health support. That number is one in five among 18- to 34-year-olds. Of these, more than half of employees who say there are in distress report receiving no support from their employer.

“In the context of a labour shortage, companies can’t afford to lose employees because of mental health issues.”

Robert Dumas believes that it’s time for companies to make their employees’ mental health the focus of their business strategy, particularly when it comes to returning to the workplace. He emphasizes that they need to take concrete action, promoting flexibility in schedules and using supple, conciliatory approaches.

“We need to invest and get involved. We need to develop a mental health strategy and invest in support programs in the workplace. It is not an expense. It is an investment.”

According to Robert Dumas, there are a number of concrete actions employers can take to get a clearer picture of the psychological health of their employees, including frequent surveys. Employers can then quickly introduce measures to improve the mental well-being of their personnel.

“We can expect government interventions in mental health, but businesses can make efforts to improve things.”

He added that managers play a leading role in making people aware of mental health issues and that they need better training to support their employees. He indicated that issues of psychological health need to be addressed and communicated to employees, to prevent stigmatization or discomfort.

Mr. Dumas emphasized that managers must lead by example, expressing their vulnerabilities and their positive and negative experiences. This will enable employees to open up to others and build more resilient, effective, and compassionate teams.

“The most effective leaders are those who openly and honestly recognize the challenges they are facing.”

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