COVID-19 has taken a toll on the mental health of millions of Canadians, including frontline workers in industries such as retail.

Against that backdrop, Walmart Inc. — the largest private employer in the world — has teamed up with behaviour change technology company, Thrive Global, to help its workforce in Canada better cope with anxieties tied to the pandemic.

“We have identified wellbeing as a strategic priority for our workforce,” Nabeela Ixtabalan, Walmart Canada’s executive vice president of people and corporate affairs, said in an email.

“Just like everyone else, our associates are balancing work, home life, uncertainty and so much more, while at the same time providing an essential service in the community. It’s been a lot for everyone.”

Walmart Canada will offer a range of Thrive's behaviour change resources to its 100,000 person workforce, which includes executives, managers and store associates.

The tools are designed to reduce daily stress and help build an employee’s mental resilience by making smarter choices.

Ixtabalan has prioritized normalizing workplace conversations on mental health in part because of her own personal experience.

“I have openly shared my story with stress and anxiety. I had my first stress-induced anxiety attack over 10 years ago and I hid it for many years. I share my story so that others know that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength; it is the epitome of strength.”

Thrive was launched by tech and media entrepreneur Arianna Huffington in 2016.

“Coming into 2020 we were already in the midst of a growing mental health crisis fueled by stress and burnout, which only intensified as the pandemic took hold,” Huffington said in an email.

 “Among Canadians, the mental health impact is staggering.”

Huffington cited recent findings from the Canadian Mental Health Association, which found that 40 per cent of Canadians say their mental health has deteriorated since last March.

A recent report by Morneau Shepell also found that nearly two-fifths of Canadian workers have become concerned about a co-worker's mental health during the pandemic.

Thrive’s offerings for Walmart staff include a series of webinars on subjects including managing stress and anxiety. Employees will also have access to Thrive’s ZP app, which helps workers navigate areas such as what they eat, their exercise habits, and how they deal with financial issues.

“Unlike most wellness products that are a points solution, we offer a whole human solution broken down into four journeys — Recharge, Fuel, Focus and Connect — because sleep, nutrition, movement, gratitude and other key aspects of our overall wellbeing are all connected,” Huffington said.

Huffington previously founded HuffPost (formerly The Huffington Post) in 2005, a leading online news and opinion site which was sold to AOL in 2011 for US$305 million.

Despite her financial success, Huffington had her own experience with burnout, which played a role in her decision to start Thrive.

“For all that technology makes possible, we also have to give people the tools they need to support and nurture their own wellbeing and mental resilience so they can navigate change in their daily lives.”