Employers can adopt a five-point framework in order to help workers recover their mental health and well-being, according to a document published Thursday by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy.
The Oct. 20 release of the “Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health & Well-Being in the Workplace” follows more than two years of discussion about the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on mental health. That impact has been persistent, according to a recent Conference Board survey, which found that more than one-third of employees said their self-reported mental health had declined compared to six months ago.
In the document, Murthy said that while the pandemic changed the nature of work as well as the relationship workers have with their jobs, it also presents “an opportunity to rethink how we work.” Murthy sketched out a process of five “essentials” that he said employers could follow in order to achieve that goal:
- Protection from harm.
- Connection and community.
- Work-life harmony.
- Mattering at work.
- Opportunities for growth.
“This may not be easy,” Murthy said. “But it will be worth it, because the benefits will accrue to both workers and organizations.”’
The framework builds off concepts that may be familiar to HR departments. For example, under the “Protection from Harm” subheading, Murthy said leaders should work to ensure physical as well as psychological safety at work; grant employees sufficient rest time; offer mental health support services; and implement diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility policies and programs.
Murthy also pointed to a variety of compensation and benefits topics in the document, stating that employers should create flexible and predictable scheduling policies that do not penalize workers for taking time off to care for personal or family needs. He said employers should increase access to paid leave, pay “equitable, stable and predictable” wages and provide benefits that support mental health — such as healthcare plans, retirement plans, workers’ compensation and caregiver support.
The framework also provides guidance for employers to follow regarding normalization and supporting mental health through culture change, Myra Altman, VP of clinical strategy and research at mental health solutions firm Modern Health, said in an email to HR Dive.
“The last several years have seen a significant change in how employers and employees think about the role of work in their lives with much more acknowledgment of the role of work in supporting or hindering mental health,” Altman said. “It is terrific to see the Surgeon General come out and reinforce this important, and often overlooked, aspect of health.”
A July survey by the American Psychological Association found that 8 in 10 U.S. workers said that they would consider an employer’s approach to mental health when looking for jobs, but other indicators show many employers lag in terms of adopting mental health support. Only 23% of employees in an August Yoh survey said their employers offered no-cost on-site or remote mental health resources.