How are you, really?

Matt Côté | May 18, 2023

Why prioritizing employee mental health is a win-win for renewable-energy companies, boosting worker safety, efficiency, recruitment and retention.

How are you? Good?

No, how are you REALLY?

And if the answer is: “Awful, but thanks for asking”? That might, in fact, be a good thing, since it’s a recognition of the importance of mental health in the workplace.

As CanREA’s Operations Program Director, and after a decade working in renewable energy operations, I have seen first-hand how mental health can affect our professional lives. So, outside of the office, I do my best to keep a healthy headspace by exercising, spending time in nature, and playing Minecraft with my son. And at the office, I promote mental health awareness programs and initiatives, such as CanREA’s current Cross-Canada challenge, that enable our team to pay more attention to their own well-being at work.

Mental health awareness is not just relevant to CanREA—it is also profoundly important to the renewable energy sector as a whole. Addressing workplace mental health can help improve worker health and safety, enhance efficiency, attract new workers, and increase employee-retention rates for renewable energy companies across Canada.

Ideally, these improvements could help ease some of the pressure on our industry’s workforce, which needs to grow intensely to meet the unprecedented expansion of wind, solar and energy storage needed to achieve Canada’s net-zero goals, as outlined in CanREA’s 2050 Vision.

Improving health and safety

Everyone in our industry understands how physically and mentally demanding on-site roles can be. Wind and solar technicians’ workplaces are remote and isolated by nature, and workers are routinely exposed to the elements in all kinds of weather conditions.

To avoid injury to themselves and others, employees must be at the top of their game – and rely on their team to do the same. But in an “office” where there is more interaction with wildlife than with other humans, workers have limited teammates who can step in as backups, or rescue them if there is a physical or mental health issue.

No wonder a University of Alberta study found that remote energy-sector staff experience more work-related stress than the wider population, and higher incidents of diagnosed long-term health conditions.

But there is something we can do. Renewable energy sector employers can increase employee access to mental health supports, such as the “Not Myself Today” program developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), which help support psychological safety at work.

Enhancing efficiency

Our sector relies on efficient, productive workers to keep the lights on. But when an individual is struggling with their mental health, it can have a direct impact on attendance and job performance.

For example, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found depression can hinder a worker’s ability to complete physical job tasks 20% of the time, and can reduce cognitive performance 35% of the time.

Overall, the Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates the economic burden of mental illness in Canada is $51 billion annually, with $6.3 billion resulting from lost productivity.

However, those who receive support and treatment are much more likely to see their productivity bounce back. In fact, workers are 13% more productive when happy, research from the University of Oxford suggests.

And employers see the difference too, with 88% of human resources professionals agreeing that mental health resources can increase employee productivity.

Ultimately, a more efficient workforce means that downtimes are shorter, leading to higher energy production, greater output and increased revenue.

Reducing turnover

At CanREA’s Operations Summit 2023, many industry leaders spoke to the workforce recruitment and retention challenges our sector faces at a pivotal time, when our industry needs to attract more workers than ever before.

To attract top talent and retain them for the long haul, companies must ensure employees have the support they need, including mental health supports.

And there is a very strong business case for this. A survey by workplace mental health non-profit Mind Share Partners found that 20% of U.S. respondents reported voluntarily leaving a previous job for mental health reasons. That number rose to 50% for millennials and 75% for Gen Z employees – the exact demographics our industry is competing to attract and retain.

Not only is there a human cost, but organizations may also take a financial hit of up to 1.5 to 2.5 times the departing employee’s annual salary following their departure, according to a study in the journal Social Indicators Research.

That’s exactly why CanREA launched its National Workforce Strategy last month. This unique resource aims to bolster workforce development efforts and growth of Canada’s renewable energy industry as we lead the road to net-zero.

The renewable energy workforce of the future

If we are to make Canada’s renewables sector the best place to work—today and tomorrow—we must prioritize employee mental health. It’s a win-win for workers and employers, from a health & safety, efficiency, recruitment, and retention perspective. These efforts will help our industry build the workforce of the future!

So, how are you really? And how can we help?

In 2023, CanREA is running a new monthly blog series. Don’t miss a post: Subscribe to our “Power Together” newsletter!