Today's fast-paced digital economy carries with it a higher risk of job burnout.

Multiple jobs, part-time hours and self-employment are becoming more common, particularly among workers under 34. Vacation days and pension plans are offered less frequently in compensation packages. Factor in the stress of daily life in urban centres, and you have a recipe for a host of health-related issues.

A 2015 study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto indicated that more than half of workers who reported symptoms of depression did not perceive a need for treatment, even in an era when stigmas around mental health have diminished.

While some employers provide their work forces – including contractors and freelancers – with mental-health services, they are not guaranteed benefits. Disability insurance is one way for individuals to protect themselves financially when burnout necessitates time off or help accessing rehabilitation resources.

“There is a very real misconception regarding disability insurance, that it is only used if a person sustains a physical injury on the job, and while that’s true, [insurance] does so much more than that,” says Maria Winslow, senior director of product strategy and management, life and health, for RBC Insurance.

Job burnout can be recognized through several warning signs, including insomnia, physical exhaustion, lack of concentration and anxiety.

CAMH estimates the economic cost of mental illness in Canada at about $51-billion a year, a figure that includes health-care expenses, lost productivity, and reductions in health-related quality of life. Canadians with mental-health issues are far less likely to be working, with unemployment rates as high as 90 per cent for those with the most severe forms of mental illness.

Job burnout can be recognized through several warning signs, including insomnia, physical exhaustion, lack of concentration and anxiety.

“We know approximately half-a-million people in Canada call in sick every week due to a mental-health problem,” says Louise Bradley, president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. “And these are just the ones that are recorded and that work in more of a traditional [full- or part-time] workplace. But when you look at the gig economy, we have no way of tracking [absenteeism].”

There’s also the issue of presenteeism, Ms. Bradley says. “People are coming to work when they maybe shouldn’t.”

They might feel pressure to be at their desk or to finish their work by a certain deadline, or they simply need the money.

As providers such as RBC Insurance recognize the rise in cases of mental illness and job burnout, they are offering coverage for individuals with mental-health claims. But Ms. Winslow warns that not all disability insurance plans are created equal.

“I want to stress that there are a lot of disability insurance policies out there and many have mental illness exclusions,” she explains. “You need to make sure that you are selecting a product that does not have those exclusions.”

Some plans contain tax-free benefits, while others are taxable.

“What that allows for is that in the event you need to take time off, you are able to pay your bills and expenses and completely focus on your recovery,” Ms. Winslow says.

It’s always a good idea to purchase insurance sooner rather than later, as it can reduce the cost of premiums. But there are questions you need to ask to make sure the coverage is right for you and your work situation.

Are you self-employed? Do you need to top up your group coverage? How much coverage do you need to cover your expenses, in the event you have to take time off work? Does the plan cover you if you have an accident or illness outside of work? Or if you quit your job?

It’s always a good idea to purchase insurance sooner rather than later, as it can reduce the cost of premiums.

Disability insurance is about reducing your financial stress during times of illness and absences from work, Ms. Winslow says, so a future income option is also an important consideration, as your plan will not grow automatically.

Usually part of a long-term disability plan, a future income option allows the insured to increase coverage every year to coincide with increases in an individual’s income. When your salary goes up, your coverage does too.

There are a host of online resources and tools available to help Canadians recognize signs of burnout. But as contract work escalates among the under-34 generations, it’s an area that will required increased attention. Mental illness often appears when workers are young.

“It’s something that requires more resources and further study,” Ms. Bradley says.

Looking for a way to protect yourself financially in the event you need to take time off for mental health-related reasons?


This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.