May 6, 2009 / 10:17 PM / 10 years ago

Recession robs Canadians of sleep, productivity

TORONTO (Reuters) - Stressed-out Canadians are losing sleep over the protracted economic meltdown, a survey showed on Wednesday, and that’s translating into heightened anxiety and a drop in productivity on the job.

About one-third of 1,062 employees surveyed by Desjardins Financial Security said they are more stressed than a year ago, with economic worries being the main cause.

Another 30 percent confessed they were suffering from tension-related symptoms such as anxiety, headaches and a lack of sleep.

Workers are fearful the recession will last much longer than economists have predicted, with 47 percent believing the downturn will extend well into next year.

Many employees are logging longer hours at the office, but productivity is suffering as recession-weary workers buckle under the stress, said Michele Nowski, director of disability claims and disability management with Desjardins, which specializes in insurance and retirement savings products.

“Productivity can have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line and while the employee may not necessarily be absent from work, they may not be present 100 percent at work either,” Nowski said.

Canadians are increasingly weary of layoffs, and indicate that money, workload and job security as the three biggest worries in their lives, the survey said.

It noted that mental health issues are now the fastest growing reason for days lost in the workplace.

Canadian health officials became alarmed when stories about marital strife, substance abuse and a rise in depression increased as the economy worsened in the United States, said Taylor Alexander, chief executive of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s national office.

Now, the effects are showing up north of the border.

“We think of the U.S. as being the canary in the coal mine. It was the first to be hit really hard by the economic downturn and we were beginning to see the same kinds of situations emerging here,” Alexander said.

“People think the future looks pretty grim and they are worried that things may not turn around,” he said.

Experts are urging employers to broaden access and funding for mental health support and to open lines of communication with troubled staff.

“If you’re a front-line manager, you need to be visible, you need to be approachable, you need to be aware of what’s going on in your department and what your employees are saying in the rumor mill,” Nowski said.

Reporting by Ashleigh Patterson; editing by Jeffrey Jones

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