As a leading provider of group benefit plans in Canada, and a large employer itself, Great-West Life understands the impact of mental health issues in the workplace. In 2007, the company made a commitment to put its expertise and resources to work to actively support and promote the search for solutions.
The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace was launched in mid-2007. Its objectives are to increase knowledge and awareness of the impacts of mental health issues in the workplace, and to turn that knowledge into action to help employers and employees prevent and reduce negative effects.

The Centre is unique in Canada in its exclusive focus on the workplace. Through the Centre, Great-West Life will sponsor research, conferences and workshops, and support the public dissemination and exchange of information. Any information and tools identified by the Centre will be freely available to all employers through its website:

“We have known for some time that the impact of mental health on workplace productivity is considerable. Estimates published by the Government of Canada put the cost to the Canadian economy at well above CAD15 billion annually,” said Dave Johnston, Executive Vice-President of Great-West Life’s Group Insurance Division. “The Centre is our way of taking a leadership role in the search for solutions in an area that affects many thousands of Canadians.”

Major survey advances understanding
Late last year, in co-operation with the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, the Centre released the results of its first major initiative – a public opinion survey on depression in the workplace. The survey, commissioned by the Centre, was the largest of its kind in Canada and involved input from over 4,000 staff and managers of Canadian companies.

The study revealed that:
- 10% of Canadian workers missed three or more work days due to depression, stress or anxiety in the last 12 months
- 82% of workers think the CEO should make helping employees with depression a key human resources priority
- While 83% of managers believe it is their job to intervene when an employee is suffering from depression, only 55% claim to know how and only 18% claim to have had training to do this
- Although 83% of respondents believe that workers with mental health conditions can be just as productive with the right support, 43% believe that if they acknowledged their depression, they might not be able to get ahead in their careers.

A comprehensive summary of the survey results is available on the Centre’s website.

Website offers practical tools
The Centre’s website is designed as a practical resource for employers and will feature information and resources on such topics as:
- Awareness and stigma
- Making the business case for a mentally healthier workplace
- Management and leadership strategies
- Policies and templates
- Resources for employees
- Return-to-work accommodation
- Mental health facts & figures, covering the financial and human costs of workplace mental health.

Centre of Excellence
Another step taken by Great-West Life in this area is the creation of a Centre of Excellence for Mental Health Disabilities. The Centre of Excellence is a resource for learning and best practice development for Great-West’s disability operations. This cross-functional team is researching a range of topics, from training supports to tools to aid in assessing and managing disability claims.

“Mental health issues have a significant impact not only on employers and insurers, but also on families and our society. It will be an important focus for us for years to come,” concludes Dave Johnston.

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