Concerns over Money Squeeze the Zest Out of Life for Canadian Workers

Earning money comes first for Canadian workers. 59%, when ill, put work ahead of family and personal obligations

  • Money is the main source of stress for respondents (44%). It’s the primary obstacle preventing people from taking necessary recovery time off from work.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Canadian workers (62%), with physical health problems resulting from mental health issues continue to make work a priority when ill, not devoting the necessary time to recover. Sacrifices, made by 59% of these respondents, were made at the expense of family and friends.
  • For 83% of Canadian workers, wireless technology is either maintaining or increasing stress levels.
  • More than one in five Canadian workers used available Employee Assistance Programs to manage a personal situation.

Toronto, June 1, 2006 – Concern over money is resulting in Canadian workers losing the work-life balance battle due to increased stress, anxiety and depression. In Canada, employees put work first – before family and friends – even when sick, according to the third edition of Desjardins Financial Security’s national survey on health. The survey measures Canadian perceptions about financial security, physical and mental health.

Financial concerns are the root of the work-life imbalance, which is a source of stress at both home and on the job. On the home-front, 44% of respondents said money issues were the main source of stress, anxiety and depression. At work, the potential hardship caused by losing pay is why many employees don’t take the necessary time off to recover from health problems.

Over the past two years one in five Canadian workers (21%) claimed they experienced various physical health problems caused by mental health issues. Of this group, 62% maintained regular work schedules, but made sacrifices in their personal lives. The survey reveals 59% of these workers decided to cut back on personal commitments — at the expense of relationships with family and friends. More than 85% of respondents dealing with mental health issues say they relied upon these relationships to get through their darkest hours.

“The costs and effects on people and companies are tremendous,” says Alain Thauvette, senior vice president of Group and Business Insurance for Desjardins Financial Security. “Forty-eight per cent of Canadian workers, who took time off of work because of physical health problems relating to mental health issues, told us they were absent from one to five business days from work. But, 37% of Canadian workers, who attempted to keep to their work schedule while dealing with physical health problems resulting from a mental health issue, said they had to return to work to avoid lost wages.

People returning to work because of perceived lost income is a growing issue for employers. Presenteeism, the feeling that you must show up for work even if you are too sick to be there is a main factor in employee stress and distraction. The results are productivity losses for companies. Employers need to pay attention,” adds Thauvette.

Technology undermines work-life balance

While chasing the almighty buck at the expense of a balanced lifestyle is at the root of most mental health issues, the perceived control an employees have over their jobs and personal lives is also a contributor to our work-oriented culture. Wireless technology and laptops, which were designed to help simplify life, have in fact opened the door to work in the home or cottage.

According to the survey, of the 62% of Canadian workers who carry wireless devices and laptops, 83% said this technology has either increased their level of stress (29%) or maintained it (54%). Only 17% of respondents said that technological tools have done what they were promoted to do: decrease stress levels at work and allow more control over time management.

“The separation of personal and work time does not exist anymore, as people tend to test their luck in defence of their income,” says Dr. Irvin Wolkoff, a psychiatrist in private practice in Toronto, and a commentator on mental health in the psychiatric community and international media. “There needs to be a dramatic shift in society’s responsibility toward its members. We live in a society that pushes people away from close, interpersonal relationships – all at the pursuit of making more money. Many of these individuals are paying with their physical and mental health, and jeopardizing relationships with family and friends-the ones that help them through their roughest times.”

Employee Assistance Programs: A Shoulder to Lean On

The majority of Canadian workers affected by mental health issues say they’ve discussed their problem with family (86%), friends (85%), doctor (71%) and colleagues (63%). However there is another shoulder in the workplace for Canadian workers to lean on. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) are a resource available to half of Canadian workers through their employer, trade union or association. An additional thirty-two per cent of workers mentioned they have access to a preventative program for disability management at work. Slightly over one in five workers (22%) who have an EAP through their employers used it to help manage a personal situation.

“Although EAP programs and preventative programs exist in a significant number of Canadian organizations, employees still request more support for people suffering from mental health problems,” says Thauvette. “The respondents were willing to suggest solutions to Canadian employers. At the top of the list was education, training and raising awareness of mental health problems (23%). The second was offering employees access to counselling, therapy sessions and psychologists (16%).”

“Canadian workers and the general population are concerned about the impact mental and physical health issues have on communities, workplaces, family and friends. People need to realize there are solutions available through the workplace, trade unions, associations, government and non-profit organizations. At the same time, employers must recognize the impact of work on people’s lives, and create work environments that truly encourage a division between work and personal life. With this balance it is more likely that optimal mental, and physical health can be achieved,” adds Wolkoff.

About the Survey

SOM Surveys, Opinion Polls and Marketing conducted the survey on behalf of Desjardins Financial Security between March 8 and April 3, 2006. In total, 1,501 interviews were conducted with a representative sample of Canadian adults. The sampling plan provides proportional estimates with a maximum margin of error of plus or minus 2.6% at a 95% confidence level (19 times out of 20). The data was statistically weighted to accurately reflect the composition of Canadians by region, gender and age based on Statistics Canada’s 2001 Census information.

About Desjardins Financial Security

Desjardins Financial Security is a component of Desjardins Group, the largest integrated cooperative financial group in Canada. Specialized in life and health insurance and retirement savings for individuals and groups, Desjardins Financial Security ensures the financial security of over 5 million Canadians from coast to coast every day. It employs 3,579 people and manages more than $18 billion in assets. The company has offices in a number of cities nation-wide including Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Levis and Halifax.