US Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health in the Workplace

Last month, the leading public health authority in the United States released a new report that outlines standards for mental health in the workplace and is full of actionable recommendations. Managers who want to support employee well-being now have a task: to put the workplace mental health framework into action.

COVID-19 has alerted everyone to the depth and scope of mental health challenges: 76% of US workers report at least one symptom of a mental health condition (anxiety, depression), an increase of 17 percentage points in just two years. And 84% said at least one workplace factor had a negative impact on their mental health.

The US Surgeon General’s first-ever report on mental health in the workplace has outlined the key role companies can play in promoting and protecting mental health. It provides a road map for employers on why they should invest in mental health and wellbeing and how they can strengthen 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.”

The report identifies five core human needs that create the foundation for a mentally strong and sustainable workplace:

Protection from harm. Companies must create conditions for physical and psychological safety. To promote practices that protect workers, managers can: prioritize worker safety, provide adequate rest to combat fatigue, normalize mental health support, and implement diversity, equity, norms, policies and programs. inclusion and accessibility.

Connection and community. Workplaces must foster positive social interactions and relationships to provide workers with social support and belonging, a critical foundation for well-being. Recommended practices include: creating cultures of inclusion and belonging, cultivating trusting relationships, and fostering collaboration and teamwork.

Work-life harmony gives employees the autonomy and flexibility to integrate work and non-work demands. Key components include: giving people more control over how work is done; making schedules as flexible as possible; increasing access to paid leave; respecting the boundaries between professional and personal time.

It matters at work it affirms the dignity of workers to make them feel respected and valued and imbues work itself with purpose and meaning. To create this culture, workplaces can: provide a living wage, involve workers in workplace decisions, build a culture of gratitude and recognition, and connect individual work to the organization’s mission.

Opportunity for growth. Organizations need to create more avenues to help employees achieve their goals and recognize their contributions to the success of the organization. Companies can achieve these goals by offering quality training, education and mentoring, promoting clear and fair career paths and providing relevant and reciprocal feedback. Such efforts can then be measured with comprehensive and data-driven tools that are able to self-assess, benchmark programming and services, and access resources to improve efforts. To continue to grow, organizations need to be able to measure their progress and make the necessary changes to support employee mental health and well-being.

Every employer is affected by the mental health crisis. Now there are practical steps employers can and should take. It is no longer enough to acknowledge the challenges of mental health in the workplace; already has an answer frame.

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