The Mental Health Crisis at Work
October 31, 2022
Almost 6.5 million Canadian workers suffer mental health distress from work
Inflexible, unsupportive workplaces, unrewarding work and jobs that don’t pay the bills are leading factors in causing mental health distress for one in three working Canadians, who also say the problem is getting worse. Overall, almost half of Canadian workers say their mental health is less than good.
Last month, the Douglas Caldwell Layton Foundation commissioned Abacus Data to conduct a national survey of 2,000 working Canadians to explore the impact that working conditions and personal finances have on mental health. The survey explored how Canadians feel about their own mental health, what workplace factors most impact self-assessed mental health, and the role unions play in mitigating negative workplace experiences.
This is the first release from the large dataset and reports the extent to which Canadian workers are experiencing negative mental health and how work contributes to mental health distress. It finds:
- Work is a regular source of mental health distress for 1 in 3 workers, about 6.5 million working Canadians. This includes burnout, anxiety, nervousness, depression, and anger with co-workers or customers/patients/students.
- Twice as many say things are getting worse than say believe they are getting better. 4 in 10 workers say negative emotions caused by their workplace are increasing.
- Almost half of working Canadians are facing mental health challenges. Approximately 9.4 million working Canadians describe their mental health as less than good (47% of working Canadians).
WHAT WORKPLACE FACTORS IMPACT REPORTED MENTAL HEALTH?
We asked a wide range of questions about possible causes of mental health distress at work, checking factors ranging from physical workplace conditions, work relations, and the demands of work. A multivariate regression analysis found that all else being equal, the leading predictors of poorer mental health from work include:
- Inflexible and unsupportive workplaces.
- Work that doesn’t provide much meaning or fulfilment.
- Jobs that leave workers no further ahead financially and anxious.
Office workers were significantly more likely to report poorer mental health than front-line workers who work directly with students, patients, customers or clients, or on-site workers in jobs such as construction or manufacturing, all else being equal.
WORK AND MENTAL HEALTH
Workers were asked how often their work has left them feeling several different emotions. Almost all working Canadians have experienced some negative emotions caused by work but some are more frequent than others.
- 42% of workers say work regularly or occasionally makes them feel burned out or consistently tired.
- 38% say their work leaves feeling nervous, anxious, or on edge occasionally or regularly.
- 35% say they can’t stop or control worrying because of their work occasionally or regularly
- 32% say work leaves them feeling down, depressed, or hopeless.
- 29% say they occasionally or regularly are angry with the people they work with, including customers, clients, patients, or students.
When we aggregate this data, we find that work regularly has a negative emotional impact on 1 in 3 or approximately 6.5 million Canadians workers.
And there is a direct relationship between working causing negative emotions and one’s reported mental health. For example:
- 83% of those who say their mental health is very poor report regularly experience at least one negative emotion because of work.
- 69% of those who say their mental health is poor report regularly experience at least one negative emotion because of work.
- 33% of those who say their mental health is okay report regularly experience at least one negative emotion because of work.
And despite the widespread incidence of poor mental health, 43% of workers say negative feelings related to work have increased over the past year.
ALMOST HALF OF WORKING CANADIANS SAY THEIR MENTAL HEALTH ISN’T GOOD. 2.8 MILLION SAY THEIR MENTAL HEALTH IS POOR.
Approximately 9.4 million working Canadians describe their mental health as less than good. 33% say it is okay while 15% say it is poor or very poor.
Younger workers, female workers, and those who are currently unemployed or stay at home (not working) report worse negative mental health than others.
1 IN 5 WORKING CANADIANS SAY THEY HAVE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH A MENTAL HEALTH CONDITION
22% of working Canadians say they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.
Those under 45 years of age are more than twice as likely to say they have been diagnosed with a mental health condition than older workers. The incidence of mental health diagnoses is similar among men and women, and across different employment situations.
Of note, those working in an institution like a hospital or school or those working in a customer-facing workplace (like retail) are more likely to report being diagnosed with a mental health condition than others.
Millions of Canadian workers describe their mental health as poor or very poor. Millions more are simply “okay”. This survey shows how widespread the mental health crisis has expanded throughout the Canadian labour force.
Worse, the results suggest things are only getting worse, before they get better as millions of workers say that work has caused them to feel burned out, down, depressed, anxious, and disengaged.
When we look at how work might be contributing to poorer mental health, the leading factors are inflexible work, unsupportive workplaces, and financial insecurity.
Our survey was conducted online with 2,000 working Canadians aged 18 and over from September 6 to 13, 2022. A random sample of panellists was invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.
The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20. The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada’s working-age population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
This study was paid for by the Douglas Coldwell Layton Foundation.
TECHNICAL NOTE ON MULTIVARIATE ANALYSIS
Research Objective: To understand how a person’s work, their working conditions, and financial situation might predict their reported mental health.
Method: We conduct a multivariate analysis using binomial regression. Variables were created based on the responses to several questions in the survey.
How to analyze: The results of the model allow us to isolate the effect of a variable on self-reported mental health, all else being equal.
What predicts negative mental health?
- Union members are less likely to report negative mental health, than those not in a unionized workplace, all else being equal.
- Financial insecurity is a major predictor of poor mental health. Those who feel they are falling behind financially are much more likely to report negative mental health than those who don’t feel financially insecure, all else being equal.
- Perceived job security predicts poor mental health. Those who feel their job is insecure or they would be unable to find another job if they lost their current one are more likely to report negative mental health, all else being equal.
- Workplace flexibility is a strong predictor of poor mental health. Those who work in inflexible work environments are more likely to report negative mental health, all else being equal. Being unable to work from home also contributes to poor mental health.
- Those who get little meaning from their work are more likely to report negative mental health, all else being equal.
- Those who feel their workplace, managers, and colleagues are not supportive are more likely to report negative mental health.
- Office-based workers are more likely to report having negative mental health than those working in frontline, factory, on-site, or vehicle delivery jobs, all else being equal.
- Demographic variables such as gender and age predict self-reported mental health. Women and younger workers are more likely to report negative mental health than men and older workers, all else being equal.
 Multivariate regression analysis allows us to control for a series of variables to understand the independent impact variables might have on reported mental health. This means that we may not find a direct relationship between two variables, but when they are all included in a model, a variable is found to predict the outcome. An example of this is workplace type.
When we compare, for example, where someone works and the incidence of reporting negative mental health, we don’t have a relationship. However, when we control for demographics, financial insecurity, and workplace conditions, we do find that working in an office increases the likelihood that someone will report negative mental health, all else being equal.
ABOUT ABACUS DATA
We are the only research and strategy firm that helps organizations respond to the disruptive risks and opportunities in a world where demographics and technology are changing more quickly than ever.
We are an innovative, fast-growing public opinion and marketing research consultancy. We use the latest technology, sound science, and deep experience to generate top-flight research-based advice to our clients. We offer global research capacity with a strong focus on customer service, attention to detail, and exceptional value.
We were one of the most accurate pollsters conducting research during the 2021 Canadian election following up on our outstanding record in 2019.
Contact us with any questions.
Find out more about how we can help your organization by downloading our corporate profile and service offering.