INK+BEYOND speaker Alan Torrie discusses stress and mental health in the workplace

When Alan Torrie was first invited to attend the INK+BEYOND conference in Charlottetown to speak about stress, mental health and how it relates to workforce productivity, he wondered, as the only non-media related speaker, if the issue of brain health would fit in with the rest of the conference agenda.

So before attending the annual newspaper industry conference, Torrie did what naturally comes to all journalists; he did his research. Torrie found a recent survey done in Canada by a UK company on the stress levels of various careers. Based on factors such as physical and emotional stress, salary and job satisfaction, journalism ranked in the top 10, coming in as the fourth most stressful job in the country.

What he also discovered was the growing concern about how the ever-changing digital world is affecting the journalism industry by changing the competitive landscape.

“Printed versus cyber words are threatening your traditions,” Torrie told the audience as one of the keynote speakers at the conference. “When it comes to stress, you really do have something to be concerned about.”

The president and CEO of Morneau Shepell, Canada’s largest human resources consulting company, Torrie and his company provide organizations and their employees with HR support and counselling services through an employee assistance program.
Of the 500,000 calls his company receives every year, Torrie said about 40 percent of the callers admitted to having poor to fair mental health. He encouraged the managers in the audience at his presentation to look within their own organizations to find ways to help their employees’ to cope better.

“Not just to protect their health but also because it’s simply good business,” said Torrie. “To compete today, we really need a healthy, engaged and productive workforce.”

Anxiety, stress, depression and addiction problems have become the leading reason for absenteeism and loss of productivity in the workforce in general, said Torrie.

Data shows that there is a strong correlation between high stress and loss of productivity in the workforce, said Torrie. About 80 percent of Canadian employers reported that one of the top drivers of disability claims are mental health related, coming in about 30 percent of all claims.

As a result, mental health problems and illness account for about $6 billion a year in lost productivity in Canada, with absenteeism being the main reason, explained Torrie.

A loss of productivity makes a business less competitive and a toxic work environment makes it difficult to hire and retain employees. The cost of supporting an individual on long-term disability could run up to a $1 million or more.

Torrie offered a number of proactive solutions for organizations to implement on order to help their employees better manager their stress levels:

Firstly, organizations need to pause and consider there is still stigma surrounding mental health issues in the work place and managers need to create an environment where people feel comfortable about coming forward if they are dealing with any sort of problem.

Companies also need to dive deeper into the issues in their workplace by gathering better company specific data and recognize that every workforce is different.

Employees need to start a dialogue with the leaderships within their companies about the issue of mental health.

Early intervention is important and managers need to be proactive by offering training so those who are suffering and need help can be identified.

Lastly, organizations need to become familiar with Canada’s new voluntary sta