Moving on from the Pandemic: How covid affected the Canadian workforce and what this means for the future

employee wellness

(From the March 2024 Edition of eFORUM)

By Adam Peros


“You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been” – Maya Angelou

The post pandemic response to changing needs by employers has been arduous given the unpredictable effects of covid on businesses in Canada.

Employers are tasked with managing existing needs while being better prepared for potential future issues. Finding the right balance is key, but more importantly how is that balance determined? The response so far has been a middle ground attainable for employers and employees while meeting the demands of consumers.

Before looking at how this shapes the future, and any silver lining, we will analyze the past and present.

The statements below are based off of information gathered from the following reports and surveys.

Stats Canada, Benefits Canada Survey report 2021,2022,2023, Benefits Canada Future of Work Survey 2023, Manulife Wellness Report 2022, The Toronto Star, The Canadian Centre of Substance Use and Addiction.

Effects on Canadians

-As of today according to COVID-19 epidemiology update: Current situation — there were 4,929,750 cases of covid, 58,348 deaths and 2,531 hospitalized with almost half the cases and deaths in Ontario and Quebec.

-This has had a great effect on the mental health and well-being of Canadians. The most common impacts for both groups were feelings of loneliness or isolation, physical health problems, and challenges in personal relationships.

-Family financial well-being (income and wealth) was also an issue, which led to changes in household spending habits, and was aided by pandemic relief programs. It’s important to note that Canada has the worst Net to debt ratio amongst G7 countries.

-All of these reasons have contributed to an increase in various negative coping mechanisms such as substance abuse.

-In extreme cases, there were breakdowns in marriage. Although divorces were down during the pandemic there has been an uptick since we have returned to normalcy due to backlog.

In essence, social isolation combined with a multitude of fear and the unknown has led to a deterioration in Canadians well-being and overall health.

Effects on Businesses

There were just as many challenges for businesses (Closing operation, partial closes, loss of revenue, temporary and permanent layoffs). This was clearly more evident for small businesses which were more likely to do the following;

– report a drop in revenues by 20% or more from Q1-2020 to Q1-2019.

– laid off more than 80% of their workforce if they laid off at least 1 employee

– request credit from financial institutions to cover operating costs due to COVID-19

– have their rent deferred

It’s not all doom and gloom. Many employers and employees have undoubtedly been attempting to respond in a positive and healthy manner.

Attraction and retention is still a key focus for employers as employees re-examine their desired working conditions. As a result employers have responded with the improvements in career development opportunities, better group benefits plans and increased pay.

Implementing a work culture that promotes employee welfare and discussion has also increased. As businesses change so do employees opinions on their needs and wants specifically concerning their overall health, flexibility and finances. Employers in turn are looking for ways to help mitigate overworking employees and allowing them time to refresh themselves.

The future workplace is pointing in a direction with a more balanced approach. While some business owners have had employees return to work onsite entirely many have changed their approach. Having employees work from home, within reason, would allow for more comfort and freedom to better maintain a healthy working environment that would in theory help with productivity. Virtual work arrangements have also aided with keeping employees connected and engaged.

Effects on Benefits

Historically business owners have had the following concerns regarding their benefits plans; rising drug and dental costs, paramedical services usage, disability claims, expensive new drugs being introduced, competitiveness and fraud/benefits abuse, inflation

The pandemic introduced new issues; a significant increase in dental claims due to dentist’s being closed, similar increases in claims with paramedical providers, benefits removed, constant billing changes, partial premium and benefits removed entirely.

Fortunately we can put the past behind as we continue to progress into a post pandemic world. With that being said, employers and employees have a revitalized focus with their plans. The 2023 Benefits Canada Survey found the following.

– A mental health condition is the no.1 current diagnosis amongst plan members, it can lead to a secondary diagnosis,

– Personal health and job satisfaction have a clear effect on the benefits plan highlighting the importance of an employer’s involvement in monitoring employee’s health and productivity

– A strong majority of employees appreciate their benefit plan more now than before the pandemic with those who understand what is in the plan to be most appreciative. However levels of understanding have declined since 2018 suggesting better communication could mitigate this.

– For new benefit plan members, support in navigating the health care system was their no.1 goal highlighting the importance of understanding more about their benefit plan

– Half of plan members agreed the coverage level of at least one benefit limited their ability to receive treatment increasing to 75% of plan members when that individual had a major injury or has relied significantly on mental health and paramedical therapy

– 3 out of 4 plan plan members were content with their workplace environment and company’s approach to mental health and wellness. The same proportion of plan sponsors plan to invest in at least one wellness area in the next 3 years with mental health being at the forefront.

Other important findings

– Members were more likely to take cash vs benefits when that dollar amount rose to $15,000

– There are more virtual care services offered with employees responding positively

– Inflation was the top concern for plan sponsors looking to add value to their benefit plan

– 60% of plan sponsors reported an increase in their health benefits plan over the past 3 years

– 88% of plan sponsors agreed more needs to be done to curb specialty drug costs

– Plan sponsors are benchmarking their benefits plan now more than ever

– 28% of plan sponsors added or improved their benefits plan since last year

– 39% of plan sponsors offer a flex plan up over the last 2 years.

– Over a third of plans include a health care spending account

– Employee Assistance Plans are still generally underutilized

– The highest single average out of pocket expense was for mental health therapy ($1,739).

– Most plan members want to receive health information from their company’s provider such as recommendations based on personal claims data.

– More than half of employers and employees said non-financials (paid leave, vacation/sabbatical) should be a priority in maintaining work-life balance.

The good news is that people are overall healthier now than in 2020. They are getting better sleep with less mental health issues, there is a boost in employee morale and companies are focusing more on finding ways to help their employees with their overall health.

There are still more days lost due to absence and presenteeism (this could possibly be due to a shift in being more proactive than reactive resulting in employees taking time off if they feel the need before it becomes a problem). Financial stress is up due to inflation and the overall state of the economy while a feeling of loneliness has maintained steady.

Where do we go from here

Moving forward there is an indication that businesses will have an increased focus on being better prepared and more proactive while allocating necessary resources to help employees manage their overall wellbeing and health. Employees have shown a renewed purpose in making better lifestyle choices while also being more selective in their workplace environment.

More than ever have we seen how the body, mind and work connection coupled with financial and family wellbeing can effect an individual’s health for better or worse. We live in a more connected and competitive world with evolving technologies, products, services and overall constant change. This has put added pressure on both employers and employees to keep up and while also being productive.

The past few years have certainly not been easy for most Canadians to say the least. If employers can balance being competitive while looking after their employees we should be better prepared to handle potential future global crisis. In the end, this will be determined by each companies philosophy and both the collective and individual choices we make.


The Daily — Survey on COVID-19 and Mental Health, February to May 2021 (

Canadians’ Well-being in Year One of the COVID-19 Pandemic (

Canada’s ballooning household debt — the worst of all G7 countries (

Mental Health and Substance Use During COVID-19 | Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (

Canadians who report lower self-perceived mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic more likely to report increased use of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco (

Divorce in Canada: 2020 saw lowest rate on record | CTV News

Divorces more acrimonious during pandemic: lawyers | CTV News

Broken marriages becoming pandemic’s other toll | CBC News

Impact of COVID-19 on Small Businesses in Canada (

The Wellness Report in 2022 – The Wellness Report | Manulife

The 2021 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey

2022 Benefits Canada Healthcare Survey



Adam Peros has worked in the Financial Services sector for 15 years. He studied at the University of Guelph at Humber College where he earned an Honors BA degree in Media Studies and a Diploma in Journalism – Print and Broadcast. Working for both a brokerage firm and insurance provider of small and large scales has allowed him to become very well rounded and has led him to where he is today as an independent consultant. He has his CLU, CEBS, CHS and is finishing his CFP in the Summer of 2024.