Organizational change linked to physical, mental health sick leave

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Two thirds of Canadian employees have experienced an organizational change at their current workplace and 40 per cent say it has negatively affected their health and well-being.

Research released today from a Morneau Shepell survey of employees and employers across Canada found that nearly half (46 per cent) of employees have taken time off work and/or noticed other employees take more time off work following workplace changes.

Changes include team restructuring (39 per cent), downsizing/layoffs (35 per cent), job re-design (35 per cent), re-design of the physical office space (29 per cent) and mergers (15 per cent). Of those employees who have experienced a change, 43 per cent said it had a negative impact on their perception of the company, while 30 per cent said it impacted their job performance.

Findings vary from coast to coast. Alberta employees experienced the most workplace changes, with nearly three quarters (74 per cent) facing at least one workplace change with their current employer during the time of their employment.

“We have found that among the types of organizational changes, job re-design has the strongest correlation to sick leave for both physical and mental health,” said Alan Torrie, president and chief executive officer of Morneau Shepell. “This type of change sometimes gets less focus than things like mergers, but it is clearly important to the day-to-day experience of employees.”

Organizations are being urged to understand the impact all these changes have on people and to consider the best way to support employees.

“The reality is that organizational change is more likely to increase than decrease over time,” added Torrie. “With technology advances, new business models and global economic forces, change is the new normal.”

Workplace culture

Through its research, Morneau Shepell found that 75 per cent of all respondents indicated work culture as the most important issue to address regarding mental health in the workplace. This issue ranked above the importance of employees’ willingness to get help (71 per cent), employees’ coping skills and resilience (70 per cent), reducing stigma among employees (65 per cent), reducing stigma among managers (65 per cent) and concerns about employees returning from disability leave (62 per cent).

“We know that employees who report a positive work culture are less likely to have taken mental health sick leave in the past two years,” said Paula Allen, vice-president, research and integrative solutions. “We also found that employees were less likely to indicate negative impact to their job performance, view of the company or their own health and well-being after an organizational change when they report a positive and supporting work culture.”

Among people managers, nearly half (47 per cent) indicated negative workplace culture as the top issue in the workplace. This issue was ranked higher than absenteeism (36 per cent), presenteeism (32 per cent) or employee engagement (21 per cent).

While the national average is 47 per cent, the number of people managers across the country that identified negative workplace culture as the top issue varies with 58 per cent in Alberta, 49 per cent in British Columbia, the territories and Ontario, 48 per cent in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 47 per cent in the Atlantic and 36 per cent in Quebec.

Depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety are the most common conditions in the workplace, with 31 per cent and 28 per cent of employee respondents having indicated a current or past mental health condition, respectively. Additionally, sick leave for mental health concerns is more than two times as likely for employees age 30 and under, compared to the average likelihood of employees older than age 30.

“We found that 61 per cent of employee respondents indicated their co-workers had a positive impact on their mental well-being,” said Stephen Liptrap, chief operating officer, Morneau Shepell. “Employer support and resources, such as an employee and family assistance program, were also noted as valuable by employees.”

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