Mental Health in the Workplace

Surgeon general’s focus on mental health in the workplace mirrors AHA initiative

A healthier workplace makes for healthier people and communities, according to the U.S. surgeon general, whose recent landmark report on mental health and well-being in the workplace complements the American Heart Association’s Well-being Works Better initiative.

“When the mental health of workers suffers, so do workplace productivity, creativity and retention,” said Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murphy.

The report was prompted by the profound impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on work in America. The numbers are startling:

The surgeon general presents a framework of five essentials to organizations that want to support the mental health and well-being of workers and includes evidence-based practices for doing so.

Here are the five essentials and how employers can promote them:

  1. Protection from harm: Ensure physical and psychological safety; allow adequate rest; provide mental health support and policies that promote diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility.

  2. Connection and community: Encourage a sense of inclusion and belonging; cultivate trusted relationships; promote collaboration and teamwork.

  3. Work-life harmony: Provide more autonomy on how work is done; make schedules as flexible and predictable as possible; increase access to paid leave; respect boundaries between work and nonwork time.

  4. Mattering at work: Pay a living wage; engage workers in decision-making; build a culture of gratitude and recognition; connect individual work to organizational mission.

  5. Opportunities for growth: Offer training, education and mentoring; create clear, equitable pathways for advancement; ensure relevant, reciprocal feedback.

The surgeon general champions workplaces as “engines for mental health and well-being,” which is how the Well-being Works Better Scorecard assesses them as well. The scorecard, developed with CEOs, industry leaders and AHA volunteers, helps businesses build a healthier, more equitable and productive workforce through evidence-based evaluation and analysis.

Both efforts identify similar grounds for success: safety, security, equity and opportunity. The scorecard goes further, generating data that pins down the substantive changes a business can make in programs and policies to transform its work environment.