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Hiring aspiring workers living with mental illness makes cents

Today the MHCC launched a summary report, A Clear Business Case for Hiring Aspiring Workers that suggests opening the doors to aspiring workers living with mental illness is a win-win for employers and employees.

Aspiring workers are people who have been overlooked by the workplace or sidelined due to episodic or persistent illness and are struggling to remain in the workplace. We know that the unemployment rate for people living with severe mental illness hovers between 70 and 90 per cent. As a society facing a significant labour shortage, we can no longer afford to ignore the education, skills and talents of aspiring workers.

The report summarizes an in-depth MHCC research study that examined the costs and benefits of recruiting and retaining people living with mental illness. Researchers followed the experience of select employees at five organizations, chronicling how both employer and employee can benefit financially and socially from hiring and accommodating the needs of aspiring workers. By making small investments to accommodate workers and using blueprints like the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, employers can build an inclusive workplace culture that values aspiring workers.

“A home, a job and a friend” are three central tenants to recovery. Work offers purpose, self-reliance and a support network that can bolster hope, dignity and inclusion.  An inclusive workplace not only benefits the aspiring worker – it can have a positive impact on the whole organization.

Canadian employers are invited to read the summary report and learn how they too can benefit from building an inclusive workplace that welcomes aspiring workers through its doors.


“Opening the door to the aspiring workforce is a win-win for both employers and employees. People with mental health problems and illnesses have skills and talents to contribute and they will do so in spades if given the chance by employers.”
— Louise Bradley, President and CEO, Mental Health Commission of Canada

“We work hard to create a culture that is inclusive and respectful. By supporting physical, financial, mental, spiritual and overall organizational health, while encouraging team members to be accountable to use the tools and resources available, we believe this can positively impact the mental health of all team members. By employing people with mental health issues, we demonstrate this commitment to create a safe and inclusive environment for all team members and future team members.”
— Human Resources Director, Large Crown corporation, banking

“I disclosed my mental illness in my interview for this role, and advised of the pros and cons of it in the workplace.  Being so open at the get-go enabled me to start in this role with certain accommodations and supports including setting ideal working hours allowing for self-care and establishing appropriate boundaries to ensure I could operate at my best.  Being open also enabled me to help reduce stigma in my workplace and allowed me to become a valuable and empathetic resource for my staff.”
– Accommodated employee with lived experience, Large public-sector organization

“If the person in a decision-making (position) starts from the place that they want to help and accommodate, but stay true to what they need to achieve as a department, that’s the kind of recipe for success.”
– Executive, Mid-sized for-profit, rural agricultural business

“As a social enterprise, we see creating accessible and sustainable employment as a beneficial end … investing in people who have barriers in the workforce results in loyal and dedicated staff, with less sick days and staff turnover. We have discovered that when you go above and beyond for your staff, they will in turn go above and beyond for you.”
– Owner, Small food services, consumer-run enterprise

“The research presents compelling evidence about the experiences of diverse Canadian organizations who have taken active steps to hire and accommodate workers who have experienced mental health problems. Most remarkably, the findings highlight a significant return on investment, with benefits for organizations and workers alike. The findings build a strong business case for organizations to take active steps to make their workplace more accessible to diverse workers – the benefits may be felt by everyone. Although this was a relatively small-scale study, the findings highlight that this is an area worthy of attention by organizations and government.”
– Rebecca Gewurtz, Lead researcher

Quick Facts

  • The report recommends employers implement the following measures to successfully and fairly accommodate all employees, including aspiring workers:
    • Build an inclusive workplace culture that embraces open communication and employee engagement, and values diversity in all its forms, including increased education and awareness of the diverse nature of mental health problems and illnesses.
    • Develop standards and guidelines on communication techniques that foster workplace civility.
    • Create a work environment that supports flexibility in scheduling, as well as where and how the employee can work.
  • The MHCC research study found that universal supports for mental health in the workplace can be an effective strategy, including an enhanced benefits plan that encompass a wider range of health supports.Coverage can vary among plans, so employers are encouraged to confirm inclusion of evidence-based medications and access to psychological services.
  • The study’s cost-benefit analysis found the employer’s projected net savings over the five-year span ranged from approximately $56,000 to as high as $204,000 because they accommodated an aspiring worker. The savings resulted from factors such as decreased absenteeism/presenteeism, lower turnover and increased productivity. In addition, the workers who were accommodated also come out ahead financially because they sustained their employment. The worker’s projected net income benefit over the five-year span ranged from approximately $31,000 to as high as $67,000.

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Mental Health Commission of Canada, Media Relations
613-857-0840 / media@mentalhealthcommission.ca


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For general inquiries, please contact:

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The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change, an organization designed to recommend improvements to the mental health system on a national level. We are not directly involved in individual cases of advocacy, outreach, service delivery or local supports.