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Health and Productivity Trends in the Workplace

accommodation disability management diversity/equity/inclusion leadership mental health return to work Feb 22, 2024
Health and Productivity Trends in the Workplace

In our annual webinar on the top health and productivity trends of the previous year, our team looked at some of the past year’s challenges and trends that will continue to shape the workplace landscape in the near future. Here are our top insights:


1. Employee mental health continues to be at risk.

Mental health continued to be a critical concern as employees returned to office settings amidst ongoing changes post-pandemic. Mental health-related disabilities accounts for 46% of all disability types and has experienced the largest increase since 2017 compared to other disabilities.In November 2023, Telus reported in their Mental Health Index report that 36% of Canadian workers have a high mental health risk, and about 30% of those in this group report diagnosed anxiety or depression.2 A study by the Workforce Institute reported that 43% of employees are “often” or “always” exhausted, and 78% say that stress negatively impacts work performance.3

What’s Next?

It's crucial for employers to continue prioritize mental health support by implementing company-wide awareness training, continuing to destigmatize mental health, and offering tools and resources to employees. Managers must learn to listen empathetically, discuss expectations openly, work with employees to find solutions, and follow up and follow through on actions taken to address mental health. Research shows that organizational mental health and wellness initiatives are more effective than those targeted to individuals. Reviewing scheduling, management practices, staff resources, and job design may be a good place to start when developing a strong psychological health and safety program that addresses employee burnout.


2. Return to the office requires flexibility, trust, and support.

As workplaces transitioned back to in-person operations, the hybrid work model gained popularity. Since the shift, reports show that fully in-person organizations have experienced higher absenteeism and presenteeism rates, mental health issues, higher stress levels, and physical health issues than for in fully remote or hybrid/flexible work arrangements.4 Some employers navigating hybrid set-ups have faced pushback from employees about returning to the office, due to perceived inequities between fully onsite workers and those with flexible working arrangements.

What’s Next?

Flexibility and adaptability will continue to be keywords for the workplace in the upcoming years. Flexibility options could include a shorter work week or staggered start and end times but should recognize the needs of individual employees. Mandating a return to the office requires support for employees who may struggle with this transition. This includes providing a predictable schedule and offering autonomy, when possible, to build trust. It may also include offering services such as success coaching, accommodation assessments, or ergonomic assessments to ensure employees have both the skills and equipment to meet work demands. To address pushback from employees, employers should clearly communicate job roles and expectations, offer recognition for essential on-site services, and consider providing perks to on-site workers.


3. The need for neurodivergence training is growing.

There has been a growing demand for support and accommodations for neurodivergent employees, who make up about 30-40% of the working population. Neurodivergence encompasses a broad spectrum of conditions, including mental health conditions, autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. Supporting neurodiversity has shown to be beneficial not only for employees, but for the entire organization. Cited benefits include boosting company culture and morale, fostering retention, improving manager-employee relations, leveraging above-average talent and skills, as well as bringing diverse perspectives to the table.5

What’s Next?

Maximizing the talents of neurodivergent employees requires ongoing support and accommodations. Employers should invest in neurodiversity training for managers, implement inclusive hiring practices, and provide workplace adjustments tailored to individual needs. Training should encompass the strengths and challenges of a neurodivergent workforce, common supports and accommodations, and the importance of inclusion at every step of the employee journey.


4. Technology and AI creates extra cognitive demands in the workplace.

With the continued mental health challenges post-pandemic, we have also seen an increase in referrals to assess workplace cognitive demands. This trend also reflects the evolving nature of job requirements, especially in digitalized workplaces, where employees face new and unlearned tasks. Over the years we have been seeing a rise in occupations requiring non-routine, cognitive tasks, and this has accelerated since the pandemic. Technology and AI integration have become more common; this advancement has resulted in entry-level jobs and customer service roles becoming increasingly complex, demanding higher problem-solving and cognitive abilities. With increased productivity expectations, we also see an increased workload/output expectation. Over three years, the increase in managerial, professional, and technical occupations (and the decline of service occupations) was considerably more pronounced among young workers (aged 25 to 35) compared to older workers (aged 45 to 54).6

What’s Next?

Workplaces should be cautious about how the changing cognitive demands of work will impact employees, especially those with disabilities. Employers should review job demands, prioritize accessibility, provide training on new technologies adopted in the workplace, and offer reasonable accommodations to ensure all employees can thrive in their roles. A Cognitive Demands Analysis can help employers identify the specific cognitive requirements of the essential duties of a job, including concentration, memory, time pressures, social interactions, and general stressors. Understanding these requirements can support hiring and accommodation processes.


5. As the disability rate increases, more strategies are needed to support the next generation of employees.

We have seen a steady increase in persons with disabilities in the workforce over the last few years. The 2022 Canadian Survey on Disability reported that nearly one-quarter (24%) of working-age adults have a disability. This may include those newly impacted by the pandemic who are facing Long Covid or other mental health issues. It may also reflect an increase of appropriate company programs, accommodations, and cultures of wellness that now support disabled workers to be able to do their best work and maintain employment. Youth (aged 15-24) experienced the largest increase in disability rate in 2022 at 20%, up 7 percentage points from 2017 at 13%.6

What’s Next?

To support the next generation of employees, employers must prioritize disability inclusion and create a welcoming, supportive, and open environment for all workers. Employers should create opportunities for personal and professional development, including success coaching and skills development programs, to facilitate the growth and retention of valuable staff members. Young workers may need additional skills in communication, emotional regulation, conflict resolution, time management, and organization. Additionally, ensuring clear and precise accommodation procedures from the recruitment and onboarding stages onwards is essential, along with educating employees on their responsibilities for accommodation requests. Implementing these strategies can help employers tap into the full potential of new talent.



[1] Statistics Canada. (2023, December 1). Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017 to 2022.

[2] Telus Health. (2023, November). Telus Mental Health Index: Canada, November 2023.

[3] Conrad, J. (2023, February 15). The Impact of Work on Mental Health. The Workforce Institute at UKG.

[4] Lemen, D., Coffin, L., & Thibeult, T. (2023, November 7). Why employees choose work over wellness: The links between absence policies, attendance, and mental health. The Conference Board of Canada.

[5] Hutchison, Jane. (2023, March 14). Breaking Down Barriers: Improving the Workplace Experience for Neurodivergent Canadians. The Conference Board of Canada.

[6] Frenette, M. (2023, July 26). The changing nature of work since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistics Canada.