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A Clear Business Case for Hiring Aspiring Workers

Executive Summary

Labour shortages in Canada are projected to reach close to two million workers by 2031, costing the Canadian economy billions in lost GDP annually. Additionally, rising rates of absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover are now requiring employers to use innovative ways to recruit and retain a qualified labour force.

Most people living with a mental health problem or illness want to work and can make important contributions to the workforce if they are adequately supported. This report presents the business case for employers to actively recruit and accommodate people living with a mental illness through an in-depth examination of the financial, social and organizational costs and benefits. The focus is on Aspiring Workers, those people who, due to mental illness, have been unable to enter the workforce, who are in and out of the workforce due to episodic illness and are struggling to remain in the workplace, or who wish to return to work after a lengthy period of illness.


Five Canadian businesses that have championed workplace mental health and taken active steps to hire and support the Aspiring Workforce were selected to carry out the research. Within each organization researchers spoke to a diverse group of stakeholders, including workers living with serious mental illness, co-workers, managers, human resource professionals, and individuals who have championed hiring and supporting people living with mental health problems and illnesses. Data was gathered through three main approaches: 1) qualitative interviews 2) interviews with individual stakeholders about the costs and benefits of accommodating a worker living with a mental illness, and 3) workplace observations and a review of key organizational documents. A comprehensive economic analysis was carried out to calculate the total costs and benefits over a five-year (projected) time frame to estimate net benefit and benefit-to-cost ratios for workers and employers.


Across all five organizations, the research revealed that attending to healthy workplace culture is critical to supporting the diverse needs of workers. As well, the research found that many workers living with mental illness seem to rely on informal processes for securing workplace accommodations, either by drawing on universally available supports such as sick days, or negotiating an individual arrangement.

The economic data from across the different organizations highlight the significant return on investment for both accommodated workers and employers. These findings were validated from diverse workers, in diverse settings, from diverse perspectives and highlight a win-win proposition. Calculations include monetary and non-monetary costs and benefits that can be showcased to present a compelling business case for strategically hiring and accommodating people from the Aspiring Workforce.


The findings highlight several recommendations for organizations seeking to innovate around hiring and accommodating workers living with a mental health problem or illness.

  1. Build an inclusive workplace culture that values diversity, embraces open communication and worker engagement by drawing on existing resources such as the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
  2. Develop standards and guidelines for proper communication that foster workplace civility. All members, including leaders and managers within the organization, should model civility in their interpersonal interactions. Short, focused training modules that are delivered on-line or in-person can be effective in helping identify language that can be (unintentionally) offensive, rude, or disrespectful.
  3. Attend to workplace physical and social environments and ensure they allow for adequate flexibility to meet the needs of people living with a mental health problem or illness, such as sufficient sunlight, designated areas respecting a worker’s privacy, office configurations for those with difficulty concentrating that avoid excessive stimulation, and opportunities for peer support and collaboration.
  4. Offer and strengthen supports and benefits (such as sick days) available to all workers as an important way to accommodate many mental health issues in the workplace. Our findings and other research indicate that universal supports for mental health in the workplace can be an effective strategy, including enhanced benefits plans that encompass a range of health supports. Coverage can vary widely among plans so employers are encouraged to confirm inclusion of evidence-based medications as well as access to psychological services.
  5. Build in flexibility where possible – in terms of how, where and when people work. Managers should be open to a range of work arrangements, and seek innovative and non-traditional approaches to fostering productivity in their particular work sector.
  6. Encourage work teams and groups to connect, support and recognize each other, both formally and informally, through peer-support initiatives, team-building and worker-recognition events.
  7. Document informal accommodation arrangements in writing, whenever possible, so that the nature and scope of options are clear, transparent, and stable through organizational change.

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