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New research: Canadian workers facing significant impacts to mental health according to five-year study

February 8, 2022

Medavie Blue Cross is proud to support an extensive study by the Observatoire sur la santé et le mieux-être au travail (OSMET) focused on the health of Canadian workers over a five-year period. The study – which over time will help glean insights into those work and non-work-related factors that contribute to better health and wellness outcomes for the Canadian working population – is well-positioned with the Medavie’s mission to improve the wellbeing of Canadians.

“As a health insurer, we are always looking at ways to reimagine benefit plans that best support the needs of Canada’s diverse workforce,” says Marthe Cloutier, Group Plan Advisor at Medavie Blue Cross. “The OSMET study presents a great opportunity for us to reassess, through data and other insights, the supports and solutions we provide to our member communities to ensure they remain relevant and meaningful – especially in light of the pandemic.”

The first part of the occupational health and wellness study included 90 Canadian workplaces and their employees, and ran from April 10, 2019, to April 8, 2021. Research findings include:

  • The prevalence of mental health issues is significant.
  • Over one-in-three individuals reported suffering from psychological distress.
  • More women than men reported suffering from mental health issues. Overall, women are 27 per cent to 69 per cent more likely to report mental health issues than men.
  • People aged 50+ experienced fewer mental health issues overall.
  • Young employees (18–34) were particularly at risk of developing symptoms of depression.
  • People interviewed during the COVID-19 pandemic showed a higher prevalence of psychological distress.

“The pandemic has destabilized workers on a professional and personal level, so it will be interesting to observe how a return to normalcy will impact Canadian workers,” says Alain Marchand, Director of the Observatoire sur la santé et le mieux-être au travail and Professor at the Université de Montréal. “Returning to work and seeing your co-workers again will bring its own share of fear and anxiety. With the study beginning before the pandemic, the research will observe the impacts of major changes in work habits, the eventual return to the office and long-term impacts.”

The study’s preliminary results indicate issues caused by psychological distress and burnout can be prevented via different targeted interventions. However, these are complex issues requiring further investigation from different angles: the workplace, people’s experiences outside work, their health, life experience and personality traits.

“Companies can manage absenteeism and presenteeism by adopting an integrated approach that aims to further support working conditions, communication, work-life balance and individual health, which will undoubtedly yield positive outcomes for protecting employee health,” says Marchand.

With employees eventually returning to an office environment, in many instances, employers will need to carefully think about how to best support them in the wake of the pandemic's impact on their health and wellness, particularly their mental health.

“A wide range of solutions exist to support mental health in the workplace. From employee and family assistance programs, to personalized medicine, internet-enabled cognitive-behavioural therapy (iCBT) and through care provided by mental health professionals such as psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists, each employer can build their own toolbox,” adds Marthe Cloutier.

As part of its work, OSMET also provides businesses with a catalogue of best practices in occupational health and wellness, which helps employers make the right decisions and reduce absenteeism.


The Observatoire sur la santé et le mieux-être au travail (OSMET) was established at the Université de Montréal by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Centre for Public Health Research Centre (formerly the Public Health Research Institute), and the School of Industrial Relations. The OSMET also receives financial support from its four founding partners: Solutions Mieux-être LifeWorks (formerly Morneau Shepell), McKesson Canada, Medavie Blue Cross and Pratt & Whitney Canada.


Importance des problèmes de santé mentale en milieux de travail avant et pendant la crise de la COVID-19 : Les premiers résultats du cycle-1 de l’ELOSMET, January 2021. [the importance of mental health issues in the workplace before and during the COVID-19 crisis: preliminary results from ELOSMET phase 1] (French only).

Portrait de l’implantation des pratiques de gestion de la santé et du mieux-être au travail, June 2021. [overview of the implementation of occupational health and well-being management practices] (French only).