US Surgeon General Releases New Framework for Mental Health and Well-Being in the Workplace

Reports of ‘quiet exit’ and mass resignation highlight how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Americans live and work

The framework highlights five essentials for workers in organizations and businesses of all sizes to help leaders develop policies and practices that support workers’ mental health and well-being

(Washington, DC) — Today, United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a new The Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace outlining the fundamental role that workplaces must play in promoting the health and well-being of workers and our communities. As reports of the “quiet walkout” and the Great Resignation have shown, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of work for many and the relationship some workers have with their work.

With more than 160 million people participating in the United States workforce and with the average full-time worker in the United States spending about half of their waking life at work, workplaces play a significant role in shaping our mental and physical well-being . Employers have a unique opportunity to not only invest in the mental health and well-being of their workforce, but also strengthen the success of their organizations in doing so.

“A healthy workforce is the foundation for thriving organizations and healthier communities,” said Chief Surgeon Dr. Vivek Murthy. “As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have the opportunity and the power to transform workplaces into engines of mental health and wellbeing, and this Surgeon General’s Framework shows us how we can start. This will require organizations to rethink how they protect workers from harm, foster a sense of connection among workers, show workers that they matter, make space for their lives outside of work and support their growth. It will be worth it because the benefits will accrue to both workers and organizations.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the relationship between work and well-being into sharper focus for many U.S. workers. According to recent studies:

IN The Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health and Wellbeing in the WorkplaceDr. Murthy outlines the five essentials of mental health and well-being in the workplace to help organizations develop, institutionalize and update policies, processes and practices that best support the mental health and well-being of all workers.

  1. Protection from harm: Creating conditions for physical and psychological safety is a critical foundation for ensuring mental health and well-being in the workplace. In order to promote practices that better ensure protection from harm, workplaces can:
    1. Prioritize physical and psychological safety in the workplace
    2. Ensure adequate rest
    3. Normalizing and supporting a focus on mental health
    4. Operationalizing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility (DEIA) norms, policies and programs
  2. Connection and community: Fostering positive social interaction and relationships in the workplace supports worker well-being. In order to promote practices that better provide connection and community, workplaces can:
    1. Create cultures of inclusion and belonging
    2. Cultivate trusting relationships
    3. Encourage cooperation and teamwork
  3. Work-life harmony: Professional and personal roles can create work and non-work conflicts. In order to promote practices that better ensure work-life balance, workplaces can:
    1. Provide more autonomy over how work is done
    2. Make schedules as flexible and predictable as possible
    3. Increase access to paid leave
    4. Respect the boundaries between working and non-working hours
  4. Importance of work: People want to know that they matter to the people around them and that their work matters. Knowing you matter has been shown to reduce stress, while feeling unimportant can increase your risk of depression. To better provide a workplace culture of significance, workplaces can:
    1. Provide a living wage
    2. Engage workers in workplace decisions
    3. Build a culture of gratitude and recognition
    4. Connect individual work to the organizational mission
  5. Opportunities for growth: When organizations create more opportunities for workers to achieve goals based on their skills and growth, workers become more optimistic about their abilities and more enthusiastic about contributing to the organization. To promote practices that better provide opportunities for growth, workplaces can:
    1. Offer quality training, education and mentoring
    2. Promote clear, fair pathways for career advancement
    3. Provide appropriate, reciprocal feedback

A Surgeon General’s Framework is a guide to drawing attention to a public health problem developed to help the American public better understand and address the factors that affect health. This particular framework provides the Essentials, a foundation of key components, for workplace leaders to engage all workers and equitably support their mental health and wellbeing. It includes evidence-based practices that workplace leaders of all sizes and industries can apply to reimagine and revitalize their organizations.

As the nation’s physician—the 21st surgeon general of the United States—Dr. Murthy has focused much of his work, research and public platform on how the nation can bounce back from the pandemic stronger than before, including his recently released Surgeon General’s Advice on Youth Mental Health and Health Worker Wellbeing. The The Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health and Wellbeing in the Workplace is part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) ongoing effort to support President Joe Biden’s comprehensive government strategy to transform mental health services for all Americans—a key part of the President’s Unity Agenda, which is reflected in the President’s Budget for fiscal year 2023. Following the President’s State of the Union address in March, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra launched the HHS National Mental Health Strengthening Tour to address mental health challenges that have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including substance use, youth mental health and suicide.

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