Canadians believe employers have a responsibility to support their employees’ health, both physical and psychological. That’s from a new study, the Sun Life Canadian Health Index, released today. More than four in five said employers are responsible for supporting physical health (54% said “some responsibility;” 31% said “significant responsibility”). A statistically equal number said the same about psychological health (54% said “some responsibility;” 32% said “significant responsibility”).

These opinions are held consistently, across the provinces and among Canadians of different age groups. The study is based on a poll of 18- to 80-year olds conducted by Ipsos Reid.

Employers have long been accountable for worker health and safety. The Ontario Workman’s Compensation for Injuries Act – the first of its kind in Canada – was enacted in 1886.

But there’s more going on here than basic health and safety assurances. The fact that three in 10 Canadians believe employers have a “significant responsibility” to support employee health, along with the decision by very many employers to invest in the promotion of physical and psychological health in the workplace speaks to an important development in the relationship between employers and employees in today’s economy.

Employers spend in these areas because healthy employees are more productive and because Canadians expect their employer to provide this support. There’s a strong alignment of interests here that benefits both groups.

Still, there is room for progress. Among working Canadians, 24% said their employer provides no support for their physical health. Roughly the same amount – 29% – said the same about support for psychological health. More than half (57%) said their employer doesn’t offer a wellness program and another 13% don’t know.

Those numbers don’t add up. A colleague in our Group Benefits business unit tells me the actual percentage of Canadian employers that sponsor a wellness plan of one kind or another is close to 90%. That’s based on a study of organizations with 50 or more employees.

It’s not clear from the data why so many working Canadians have these false impressions. The lack of awareness means that good programs are going unused, which is to say money and services that employees are entitled to are being left on the table. That serves no-one’s interests.