Canadian workers punch in even when sick and exhausted: Desjardins Survey

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Recent health survey finds that 83 per cent of Canadians have practiced “presenteeism”

Toronto, May 1, 2008 – According to the first results of the Desjardins Financial Security National Health Survey released today in advance of National Mental Health Week (May 5 to 11, 2008), 42 per cent of Canadian workers went to work sick or exhausted at least once in 2007. Of these, 29 per cent admitted to working while ill three to five times, 11 per cent from six to 10 times and 12 per cent admitted to more than 10 times in the last year. The reasons most often mentioned by the respondents for their presenteeism were:

  • Looming deadlines (61 per cent)
  • Preventing workload pile-up (55 per cent)
  • Not wanting colleagues to be overloaded (49 per cent)
  • Concern about missing work being frowned upon (41 per cent)
  • Simply not being able to miss the income (40 per cent)

Nine out of 10 workers believe that the incidences of stress-related mental health problems, such as burn-out, depression and anxiety have been increasing over the years. When asked about their daily work reality, many complained of increased stress, heavy workloads and a lack of recognition from their employer. 65 per cent said that they participate less in decisions that involve their work, 61 per cent agreed that workers today do too much for their employers and 60 per cent commented that workers have difficult relationships with their bosses. Over half of the workers surveyed (55 per cent) said they have less contact with their co-workers and supervisors.

“Even if each person is responsible for his or her own health, these results should prompt employers to take a closer look at the reality of their own workplaces and its impact on their employees’ health,” said Alain Thauvette, senior vice-president, Group and Business Insurance, at Desjardins Financial Security (DFS). “In the long run, employers cannot be entirely sure of the strength of their businesses if their workforce is not in good health.”

And now the good news

Interestingly, when asked to name the top stressors in their lives, respondents mentioned work pressures third, after money problems and personal health issues. Michele Nowski, director of disability income claims and disability management at DFS is not surprised. “In reality, we see just a small percentage of mental health absences that are solely related to workplace issues. Obviously, stress management is still an everyday struggle for many people, but the main responsibility of the workplace is to provide healthy conditions to help workers face their daily challenges. The rest is up to the individual.”

Workplaces appear to be gradually adapting to mental health challenges in their businesses. Close to two-thirds of workers think that their employer’s senior management is concerned about employee wellness and four out of 10 believe that management is showing that they are ready to listen or are open to discussing issues with their employees.

Moreover, of the 55 per cent of workers who have seen a co-worker miss work for a period of time due to a mental health problem, 82 per cent said that it has made them more sensitive to behaving in a way that promotes mental health in the workplace. As a result, 68 per cent said that they have become more sensitive to their own mental health. Finally, 82 per cent of respondents disagreed that workers who miss work due to mental health problems view the time off as paid vacation.

“What struck me was the sense of compassion that workers have for their colleagues who are suffering from mental health problems. It’s obvious that attitudes towards mental health issues in the workplace have evolved considerably,” said Dr. Taylor Alexander, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association. “Increasingly, businesses are implementing policies and adopting behaviors that promote mental health that are becoming an integral part of the organization’s culture. This practice is crucial not only for everyone’s well-being, but also as a means to combat looming labour shortages and to improve business profitability. Clearly, more needs to be done to create mentally healthier workplaces, as this survey shows. We should all think about adopting new attitudes about mental health at work, especially during National Mental Health Week.”

The 57th annual National Mental Health Week is an initiative of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA). For the third year in a row, Desjardins Financial Security is a major partner and will be sponsoring many activities across Canada including Dr. Steven Stein’s “Mental Health: Make it Your Business” conference, to be held on May 6, 2008, at 6:00 p.m. at the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa.

For more details on the survey results and Desjardins Financial Security’s mental health partnerships, please visit

About the Survey

SOM Surveys, Opinion Polls and Marketing conducted the survey on behalf of Desjardins Financial Security between February 7 and March 10, 2008. In total, 1,594 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 per cent at a 95 per cent 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 2006 Census information.

About Desjardins Financial Security

Desjardins Financial Security, a subsidiary of Desjardins Group, the largest integrated cooperative financial group in Canada, specializes in providing life insurance, health insurance and retirement savings products and services to individuals and groups. Every day, over five million Canadians rely on Desjardins Financial Security to ensure their financial security. The company employs over 3,900 people and administers more than $22 billion in assets from offices in several cities across the country, including Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montr�al, Qu�bec, L�vis, Halifax and St. John’s. For more information, visit our website at