Roundtable: Enabling Healthy and Productive Work

January 15, 2015
Ottawa, ON


The Conference Board of Canada hosted an invitational roundtable in January of 2015 with a variety of key stakeholders to enable a robust discussion on the gaps and opportunities to improve employers’ practices in regards to enabling healthy and productive work. The roundtable included employers, union representatives, insurers, industry associations, research institutions/organizations and academia and featured expert presentations and group discussion where participants were able to hear from leading experts, share challenges and successes in responding to needs of employees. The following is a summary of the Roundtable discussions; the full Conference Board report is available in both official languages.

Roundtable Objectives

  • Hear from leading experts on effective strategies and promising practices related to health promotion, disability management, chronic disease prevention and other related topics;
  • Share challenges and successes in effectively responding to the needs of older workers, workers with caregiving responsibilities, persons with disabilities, and workers with mental health challenges;
  • Discover how leading organizations are tackling these issues;
  • Provide input into the design of the proposed CIHR/SSHRC research initiative;
  • Network with peers and stakeholders from other organizations – share new approaches, insights and challenges.


Throughout the roundtable discussion four employee groups were specifically discussed. Each of these employee groups were thought to experience unique challenges in the workplace, which may benefit from targeted research. In no specific order, the groups were:

1. Older workers

The demographics of the Canadian workforce are changing, resulting in older personnel who are highly knowledgeable and valued and also prone to more non-occupational illnesses, injuries, and disabilities. Employers need to focus on health promotion activities and ensure that mature workers return to work safely and in a timely manner if they require a disability leave. Thus employers need to be equipped to effectively accommodate older workers and facilitate the return to work process.

2. Workers with caregiving responsibilities

The number of caregivers employed in the Canadian labour force is increasing. Employees with caregiving responsibilities often experience excessive stress when trying to balance their family responsibilities and their work obligations. Many traditional organizational supportive practices and programs have not been structured for employees with caregiving responsibilities in how they define “family”. Workers with caregiving responsibilities may require increased flexibility and by doing so employers can empower them to manage their time and responsibilities. Employers are becoming aware that their programs and practices will need to be adjusted as well to reflect these changes. Manager education may also be necessary to fully implement these changes.

3. People with disabilities

Individual with disabilities are under-represented in the Canadian labour force. Myths and stigma still surround employees with disabilities in the workplace – in particular, about their productivity, their absenteeism, their turnover rate and their skills. Education and awareness training is required at all levels of the organization in order to ensure that the workplace is inclusive and supportive of employees with disabilities. In addition employers are also challenged with finding the appropriate, cost effective accommodation measures that will enable employees with disabilities to be productive at work. Finally, in order to ensure that employees with disabilities have support when they face medical issues, they require a variety of health-related programs that cover the range of the health spectrum. This includes health promotion and injury / illness prevention initiatives, early intervention, stay at work programs, and disability management programs with return to work processes. Employers require evidence-based information and examples of best practices in all of these areas.

4. Workers with mental health issues

Stigma related to mental health issues is prevalent at work. The impact of stigma is profound; it can prevent employees who are experiencing a mental health issue from accessing workplace resources. Employers are also concerned about self-stigma, which occurs when an employee who is experiencing a mental health issue believes that this is a sign of weakness or otherwise judges themselves harshly for having this medical condition. The result is that the problem may be ignored or the employee may resist assistance, available support and or resources. Anti-stigma training is required at all levels of the organization to shift the mindset on mental health and employers require guidance on how to build mentally healthy work environments. This includes information on how they can address workplace issues that may negatively impact the mental health of employees and prevent psychological harm. Research is needed on how to shift the culture at work, making it supportive of employees with mental health issues.


Roundtable participants believe that collaboration between researchers, employers, unions and employee or employer advocate associations will lead to new and innovative practices to implement in the Canadian workplace. This will assist all employees, not only the four employee groups discussed above, and will help Canada to remain competitive. In particular, participants wanted the Healthy and Productive Work initiative to:

  • Provide research on industry specific or job specific strategies or programs,
  • Facilitate the exchange of practical knowledge and information,
  • Identify and evaluate promising Canadian and international practices, and
  • Provide evidence-based data on the outcomes of the programs to determine if they are cost-effective.

For more information, view the full Conference Board Report.

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