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More than half of SME workers live with a mental health issue

Québec City, March 22, 2022 – Approximately 55% of workers in Canadian small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) experience at least one mental health challenge, according to a study conducted by a Université Laval research team.

"SMEs are an important pillar of employment in Canada, but the mental health and specific challenges faced by their workers are largely undocumented scientifically. Our pan-Canadian study seeks to fill this gap," says Simon Coulombe, Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Relations at Université Laval and holder of the Relief Research Chair in Mental Health, Self-Management, and Work, powered by Beneva.

The study, entitled 2022 Portrait of the Mental Health of SME Workers in Canada, is based on an online questionnaire survey conducted in February 2022 among 2,500 people who work in companies with fewer than 500 employees.

In this study, conducted by Simon Coulombe, associate professor in the Département des relations industrielles at Université Laval, Marie-France de Lafontaine, doctoral student in psychology at Université Laval, and Carol-Anne Gauthier, Chair coordinator and lecturer at Université Laval, mental health is defined not only by the absence of difficulties, but also by a sense of flourishing and well-being in life and at work. Self-management refers to how a person can regain control of their mental health by actively working on it.

The highlights of this broad study include the following:

  • Almost one-third of participants experience anxiety or depression symptoms that exceed a clinical threshold in terms of severity.
  • Approximately 22% of people experience burnout above a clinical threshold.
  • 27% of people report high positive well-being (i.e., flourishing).
  • Almost 50% of workers report a negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their mental health.
  • Two out of five workers fear that disclosing mental health difficulties at work could lead to being treated differently by their manager.
  • 52% of workers perceive that psychological health is not adequately or sufficiently prioritized in the SME that employs them.
  • On average, the degree of psychological distress is lower among those who work mostly in person than among those working mostly at home (i.e., teleworking).
  • Employees in small businesses report slightly less psychological distress than those in medium-sized businesses.

"In light of these results, we are making a series of recommendations, including that SMEs make a clearer commitment to promoting the mental health of their workers, offer more employee recognition, strengthen mental health training for managers, and publicize mental health self-management strategies to raise awareness among workers," says Professor Coulombe.