- On October 20th, 2022 Surgeon General Vivek Murthy outlined a five-step framework for supporting workers mental health and well-being.
- This guidance comes as a response to the national mental health crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Companies and organizations are encouraged to implement these recommendations wherever they can to improve employee satisfaction and retention.
On October 20th, 2022 the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy released the Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health & Well-Being in the Workplace. These recommendations are intended to provide employers with guidance on how best to support the psychological health and overall well-being of their workers.
It’s well understood that the COVID-19 pandemic fueled the great resignation and ultimately upended long-accepted workplace norms. This sparked an ongoing dialogue about what sort of treatment people are and aren’t willing to tolerate at their jobs.
These conversations and efforts are especially crucial as we face what’s now widely considered to be an international mental health crisis, in which there’s been a 25% increase in depression and anxiety worldwide.
“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,” says the US Department of Health and Human Services.
Vivek Murthy, US Surgeon General
As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity and the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being, and this Surgeon General’s Framework shows us how we can start.
Now, with the growing popularity of concepts like “quiet quitting”—where employees silently moderate productivity in the name of their own sanity—companies and organizations are eagerly seeking advice on how to keep employees simultaneously happy and engaged.
“People are recognizing just how much an impact their work has on their mental health. Everything from the physical environment to the amount of freedom workers have to manage their schedules plays a major role in their emotional well-being. And now, employers are looking for workplaces that support their well-being,” says Amy Morin, LCSW and Editor-in-Chief at Verywell Mind.
Surgeon General’s Framework
Protection from Harm
Creating the 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 assure protection from harm, workplaces can:
- Prioritize workplace physical and psychological safety
- Enable adequate rest
- Normalize and support focusing on mental health
- Operationalize Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) norms, policies, and programs
“In the past, most employers thought mental health issues weren’t any of their business. But now it’s clear that addressing mental health is a workplace’s responsibility. When a manager normalizes mental health issues and encourages people to seek help, employees are more likely to take their mental health seriously,” says Morin.
Connection and Community
Fostering positive social interaction and relationships in the workplace supports worker well-being. In order to promote practices that better assure connection and community, workplaces can:
- Create cultures of inclusion and belonging
- Cultivate trusted relationships
- Foster collaboration and teamwork
Professional and personal roles can create work and non-work conflicts. In order to promote practices that better assure work-life harmony, workplaces can:
- Provide more autonomy over how work is done
- Make schedules as flexible and predictable as possible
- Increase access to paid leave
- Respect boundaries between work and non-work time
Morin explains, “Forcing people to sit at their desks from 9 to 5 every day isn’t the best way to help them be productive. Giving people some freedom and flexibility is key to helping them manage their lives outside of the office so they can be more productive when they are in the office.”
Mattering at Work
People want to know that they matter to those around them and that their work matters. Knowing you matter has been shown to lower stress, while feeling like you do not can increase the risk for depression. In order to better assure a culture of mattering at work, workplaces can:
- Provide a living wage
- Engage workers in workplace decisions
- Build a culture of gratitude and recognition
- Connect individual work with organizational mission
Opportunities for Growth
When organizations create more opportunities for workers to accomplish goals based on their skills and growth, workers become more optimistic about their abilities and more enthusiastic about contributing to the organization. In order to promote practices that better assure opportunities for growth, workplaces can:
- Offer quality training, education, and mentoring
- Foster clear, equitable pathways for career advancement
- Ensure relevant, reciprocal feedback
Looking to the Future With Mental Health in Mind
Numerous data from recent surveys reflect the need for more widespread prioritization of mental health in the workplace.
Amy Morin, LCSW
Everything from the physical environment to the amount of freedom workers have to manage their schedules plays a major role in their emotional well-being.
According to a 2022 survey by the American Psychological Association, 81% of workers are seeking jobs that support mental health. A similar survey conducted by Harvard Business Review revealed that 84% of respondents felt their place of work had negative elements that were detrimental to their mental health.
What’s more, Verywell Mind’s original research following the Great Resignation in 2021 found that 46% of workers were seeking alternate employment and 68% of respondents cited a desire to get help for their mental health. A shift in emphasis on mental health in the workplace would ideally strengthen employee retention and well-being on the whole.
“As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity and the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being, and this Surgeon General’s Framework shows us how we can start. It 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 work, and support their growth. It will be worth it, because the benefits will accrue for workers and organizations alike,” says Dr. Vivek Murthy, 21st Surgeon General of the United States.
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