Canadian HR Reporter

July 2020 CAN

Canadian HR Reporter is the national journal of human resource management. It features the latest workplace news, HR best practices, employment law commentary and tools and tips for employers to get the most out of their workforce.

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2 N E W S engagement, absenteeism and present- eeism and even physical health. Despite the many unknowns, there are several ways employers can support their workforce through this unprecedented time, by understanding the issues and the impacts and providing much-needed support and leadership. It also helps to remember how resilient humans can be, says Dobson. "I've always been impressed by how, in the face of adversity, humans do seem to bounce back." Understanding the stress factors One of the first steps is understanding what exactly is causing people to suffer mentally. There are three big predictors of how stressful something is going to be, says Dobson: how predictable it is, how much we can control it and how important it is to us. And COVID-19 involves all three, he says. "There's the risk of death or illness, of course… and then the loneliness and isolation, especially as the pandemics continue, that's an increased risk for sure… Being socially isolated is a significant risk for depression." Much of the anxiety is rooted in the uncertainty of the situation and the lack of control, says Shelley Peterson, senior vice president of total rewards at Sun Life Financial in Toronto. "There's so much change from a personal perspective and your own civil liberties and what you can do; workplaces are changing so quickly in terms of how and where they're operating; and then so much is happening around your family and your friends. That uncertainty and quarters with family or roommates, she says. "There's sometimes a bit more angst in the home — people aren't getting along the way they normally would; it's tough to be self-quarantined together. It's good when you have the choice to be home or not, but when that choice isn't there, it really is challenging." Plus, it can be harder to maintain boundaries between work and personal life when you're home all day, says Ferguson. "That's another thing to keep an eye on. And that can creep into your personal time, which can cause extra stress, which obviously leads to mental health difficulties down the road." And if a partner has lost their job, there are additional stresses, says Denis Trottier, chief mental health officer and retired partner under contract to KPMG in Ottawa. "Now I am putting that self-imposed additional pressure on me to make sure I'm doing a super good job so that I don't lose mine because I'm the breadwinner." Plus, it's hard to avoid the negativity of media reports, he says. "When you watch the news and you see all these body bags being loaded in a refrigerated cooler, how can that not mess with our mind somehow when we go to bed? It's like looking at war stuff." Mental health consequences Just like physical health, people don't always take care of their mental health and make it part of their daily routine in developing coping skills, says Trottier. "A lot of people [think that] their mental health is just there and it just happens on its own. So I worry a little bit that lack of control, I think, just really increases the strain that's placed on people and that disruption that happens in your regular routines and your regular life just impact you on a day-to-day basis — how you're eating, how you're sleeping, how you're exercising, how you're interacting with people." Financial difficulties and job loss, of course, are two big challenges, says Donna Ferguson, clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. "It's hard enough managing one stress at a time, but then to have to deal with all of this and to be socially isolated on top of it has really been challenging for people." The growth of remote work has also meant more people are living in close about the impact: When are people hitting the bottom of their bucket in regards to resilience?" he says. "Maybe you got by on wave one [of the pandemic] and you were OK. But wave two now, is it just way beyond what your resilience can handle?" Stress doesn't equal mental health disorders — it's long periods of improperly managed stress that can lead there, says Trottier. "Depending on how people are coping with the stresses of workplace and all the other things… will that lead to anxiety, depression and many of the other mental health illnesses?... That's a million-dollar question." Some people have built-in resilience and are managing through good adaptive coping strategies, says Ferguson. "But others who might have been on the brink before or teetering may struggle a bit more and really need to have to, in some cases, check in professionally." The irony is that when someone has clinical depression and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is used, they are encouraged to be social and connected, she says. "[Now], they're struggling with trying to keep safe and following the rules, and then they're struggling with being isolated and being alone and not really connecting with people in the way that they want." Generally, people who are already struggling are going to struggle more, says Dobson. "People who already had precarious economic circumstances, if the economics get worse, are going to suffer more. And for mental health issues, people that are already disadvantaged — whether it's FEDS PROVIDING MUCH-NEEDED MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT Source: Sun Life "When you watch the news and you see all these body bags being loaded in a refrigerated cooler, how can that not mess with your mind?" Denis Trottier, KPMG 56% Number of Canadians who say COVID-19 is having a negative impact on their mental health 66% Number of Canadians who cite social isolation as the number one reason 60% Number of Canadians with mental health challenges who are not receiving treatment or social support $240 million Canadian investment to develop, expand and launch virtual care and mental health tools Mental health > pg. 1

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