September 15, 2008
By W. Michael Thomas CFP, CLU, CH.F.C., R.F.P.

At some point in our lives, we may face circumstances that result in our being unable to work. It could be the result of layoffs or cutbacks, or in some instances a physical or mental disability prevents us performing on the job. Whatever the reason, the impact is often the same. Our self-esteem suffers because we want to work, but are not able to contribute at the level to which we are accustomed. In the case of the latter, employers know that the costs associated with short- and long-term disability (STD and LTD) are enormous.

Invest in resources

To ensure workers don’t get injured in the workplace, many companies invest in occupational health and safety resources. That’s why they provide employee assistance programs (EAPs) and other benefits that enable employees to address issues in their personal lives, that if left unchecked, could become debilitating.

The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health estimated that $30 billion is lost to the Canadian economy annually, due to mental health and addiction problems. The private sector pays two-thirds of these costs in the form of lost productivity, STD and LTD, group insurance premiums and drug benefits. Depression is the fastest growing disability cost category for Canadian employers, at four to 12 per cent of payroll costs.

First and foremost, these numbers back up the belief that companies operating without a quality EAP are effectively flying without a net.

Challenges are unavoidable

These numbers also tell us, that even with the best intentions and resources put forth by employers, employees are going to continue to face mental health issues that will result in both short and long disability leaves. This being the case, the employers who are best able to ease the skyrocketing cost of mental illness are those who offer a holistic approach to employee well-being.

This requires inclusion of a prevention-focused EAPs to help employees maintain good mental health, and an effective return-to-work strategy to ensure their successful reintegration into the workplace following STD or LTD leave. The longer an employee is off the job, the less likely that employee will ever return to a productive working life.

Planning helps all

Early intervention is the key, and as noted by the Ontario Medical Association’s Committee on Work and Health, “A return-to-work plan is essential to maintaining patient employability. Not doing so may have a negative impact on a person’s physical health, as well as social and economic circumstances.”

Companies that recognize this truth and provide resources to help employees navigate these roadblocks put themselves in the best position to control the devastating financial and personal costs of mental illness in the workplace.

If you have any questions, please contact Michael Thomas at the address below.
W. Michael Thomas is a partner with The Investment Guild, endorsed provider of the HortProtect Group Insurance Program and is a director of Ontario Horticultural Trades Foundation.
The Investment Guild / HortProtect
100-11 Allstate Parkway
Markham, ON L3R 9T8