The World Health Organization (WHO) states that "mental health is an integral part of health; indeed, there is no health without mental health." WHO defines "health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."
Only in the last decade have people been talking more openly about mental illness and it wasn't until September 2010 when Bell Let's Talk began a conversation about mental health in Canada. Still, only 23 percent of Canadians feel comfortable talking to their employer about their mental illness for fear of facing discrimination or dismissal. (source: Mental Health Commission of Canada)
This January 31 marks the next Bell Let's Talk Day. Its website also provides a free toolkit with a conversation guide and a PDF with five ways to create a mentally healthy workplace.
While the annual campaign shines a spotlight on mental health and contributes 5 cents from every text, call, tweet, Instagram post, Facebook video view and Snapchat geofilter to mental health initiatives, the other 364 days of the year deserve equal focus and commitment to this growing issue.
According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, 21.4 percent of the working population in Canada currently experience mental health problems and illnesses.
The effects on individuals include heart problems, back pain, cancers, infections, impaired learning and memory, substance abuse, aggression and conflict and other injuries and illnesses. Mental illness represents 30 percent of all short and long-term disability claims. By 2020, the second leading cause of disability worldwide is estimated to be depression.
The effects on workplaces are both financial and productivity-related. Mental health problems carry a price tag of $57.5 billion dollars annually in healthcare costs, lost time and work disruptions. They result in an increase of insurance premiums, health and benefit costs, recruitment costs as well as absenteeism and presenteeism
Healthy workplace habits
Each year, it seems employers offer more training, communications and wellness programs to include mental health awareness and for good reason. Mental illness affects 1 in 4 adults where only 36 percent of those reporting a mental illness receive treatment.
Employers can help by establishing and maintaining a supportive work environment where roles and expectations are clearly defined, where conflict resolution practices are communicated and enforced and where mental well-being is integrated as part of the organizational culture and structure.
Strategies to consider.
Along with custom strategies we work with our clients to implement, Bell Let's Talk and PwC suggest specific approaches and resources to consider.
Bell Let's Talk suggests:
- downloading and adopting the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace at www.csa.ca/z1003 to help safeguard employees’ mental health;
- Using the Action Guide for Employers to help put the Standard into action and encouraging executive leadership to make mental health a workplace priority; and
- Training managers and employees in Mental Health First Aid so they can spot problems early and provide initial help (visit www.mhfa.ca or email email@example.com)
According to the PwC report, Creating a Mentally Health Workplace, a mentally healthy workplace requires an organization to implement all 5 of the following strategies:
The more employers are willing to develop strategies to support employee resiliency where mental health topics are discussed openly, the greater the opportunity for vibrant, thriving and productive workplaces. The benefits of a workplace focus on mental health awareness and mental fitness programs include increased productivity, employee retention and engagement.
We'd like to start a conversation with you on this topic and invite you to contact us. We're always here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Every year it seems like technology is taking us in new directions and changing how we communicate and do business.
We've experienced the novelty of car phones, cell phones and now, smartphones as well as Google Home, Siri commands, and superfoods delivered to your door. Technological advancements seem to afford us endless possibilities and the potential for a future that is beyond limits. This notion got me thinking about how technology changed the way products and services are delivered and how it affects group benefits as a whole.
Last year, the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) reported on benefit industry changes over the course of the last 20 years. Their survey captured a comparative analysis of benefit plan offerings in 1996 and then again in 2016. This report captured marked differences including "what's in" and "what's out." While these examples reflect the sentiments of US respondents, they are not out of line with the trends reported by Canadian employers.
Telecommuting. In 1996 only 20% of companies offered employees the ability to work remotely. Technology and views of employers shifted significantly in 20 years. In 2016, 60% of companies provide flexibility in terms of promoting work-life balance.
Professional development. In 1996, the emphasis on recruiting and employee retention was not as much of a focus as it is today. In 2017, 86% of companies cover additional training and education for their employees. Costs for memberships to professional organizations and trade unions are up 88% as compared to 65% in 1996.
Focus on Wellness. In 1996, 54% of employer offered health and wellness programs. Comparatively, in 2016, 72% of employers offer wellness programs including discounts on insurance premiums or Health Savings Accounts. Given the increased number of chronic disease conditions related to diabetes, obesity and heart disease seen in the workplace, this increased focus is well placed.
Employee stock purchase plans. Back in 1996, 28% of companies offered employee stock purchase plans compared to 9% in 2016.
Credit union memberships. The buzz around credit union membership has seen its heyday. Today only 23% of companies offer credit union memberships compared to 70% in 1996.
In 2017, we see more examples of providers implementing service experiences using artificial intelligence. Members can find out if their massage claim was processed using Google Home. It begs the question, what is next? Time will tell -- and we can help. Our extensive resources ensure we stay ahead of the curve so that we're at the ready when you are. We invite you to contact us to discuss employee benefit trends and ways to ensure you're staying current with recruitment, retention and benefit plan arrangements to meet your specific requirements now and in the future. As always, we're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
January is here and with it comes the making and breaking of new year's resolutions, new starts, clean slates and ... changes to provincial and federal legislation.
Although I've written about changes to OHIP and the new Ontario drug coverage plan that provides free access to 4,400 prescription drugs for those 24 and under, I thought it might be an important time for a refresher. Related to this provincial change is the development of OHIP+, a mobile-friendly tool to help you find out what is covered at no cost for children and youth aged 24 and under.
This is such an exciting change and the first of its kind in Canada. Free for those with a Ontario health care or health card number are: diabetes test strips, oral contraceptives, medications to treat some childhood cancers, asthma inhalers, drugs to treat depression, anxiety, epilepsy, ADHD, antibiotics, EpiPens, and other conditions.
Ontario Drug Benefit (ODB) Eligibility requirements
If you are looking to provide an update or a reminder to employees or for your own purposes, remember that to be ODB eligible, you need:
- to be a child or youth, age 24 or younger,
- age 65 or older;
- living in a long-term care home or a home for special care;
- receiving professional home and community care services;
- enrolled in the Trillium Drug Program, Ontario Works or Ontario Disability Support Program. More info about eligible can be found here.
Have your Ontario health card or health card number handy.
More great news -- enrolment is automatic with no co-payment or annual deductible and eligible prescriptions will be filled at no charge at any Ontario pharmacy. Just be sure to show an Ontario health card or health card number.
Changes to parental and maternity leave in Canada.
Back in April 2017, I wrote about the pending changes to the parental and maternity leave in Canada. At that time, nothing had been cast in stone. With the updated rules recently communicated, parents have more choices. They can opt for either 12 months or 18 months of combined maternity and parental leave. This legislative change was effective Dec. 3, 2017 and applies to any expectant Canadian parent outside of Quebec -- which has its own parental and maternity benefits.
December 3 is a key date.
If you started receiving parental or maternity benefits before December 3, the government doesn't offer you the option to switch to the 18-month system. This means that you can't choose to claim extend parental benefits if your child was born or placed with you for the purpose of adoption before December 3, 2017.
The 18-month system has locked in job security for workers in federally regulated workplaces such as transport companies, public service, telecoms and banks. The Canada Labour Code has been updated for this change in legislation already.
Those in provincially regulated jobs (the majority of working Canadians) can choose the 18-month system as of December 3, but may not have the same peace of mind for job security as their federal counterparts quite yet as changes to individual labour codes related to job protection have yet to be amended.
Standard versus Extended Parental benefits - what is the difference?
Standard parental benefits can be paid for a maximum of 35 weeks and must be claimed within a 52 week or 12 month period after the week the child was born or placed for the purpose of adoption. The weekly benefit rate is 55% of the claimant's average weekly insurable earnings up to a maximum amount. The two parents can share 35 weeks of standard benefits.
Extended parental benefits can be paid for a maximum of 61 weeks and must be claimed within a 78-week period or 18 months after the week the child was born or placed for the purpose of adoption. The benefit rate is 33% of the claimant's average weekly insurable earnings up to a maximum amount. The two parents can share 61 weeks of extended parental benefits.
Other legislative updates
For some employers, January may be a busier time as changes to existing policies and collective agreements are updated and/or communicated.
Canada Pension Plan Contribution Rates, Maximums and Exemptions. Each year, the government communicates the information specific to payroll deductions, employer and employee contribution rates.
Specific to the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), the 2018 yearly maximum pensionable earnings is $55,900 and the employee and employer contribution rate is 4.95%
Information related to registered plans such as money purchase, defined benefit, RRSPs, deferred profit sharing plans, and tax-free savings accounts limits as well as the year's maximum pensionable earnings (YMPE) is available here.
Employment Insurance (EI) premium rates and maximums -- Federal EI premium rates and maximums for 2018 are: $51,700 is the maximum annual insurable earnings for 2018. The maximum annual employee premium is $858.22 and the maximum annual employer premium is $1,201.51 with a rate of 1.66%
Especially at this time of year, employers are faced with knowing about legislative changes affecting their workplace and sometimes keeping track of all the changes may seem like a bit of a moving target. A knowledgeable third party perspective can foster the confidence that you've applied changes correctly to your specific work arrangements.
We invite you to contact us.
With over 3 decades of industry experience, we have the skills, experience and resources to help you implement policy and plan changes to meet legislative requirements as well as your program needs. As always, we're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.