While May 11, 2023, officially marked the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency, COVID’s long-term symptoms, both physical and mental remain.
The past few years have seen an increase in mental health concerns. In fact, according to a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics, 40% of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety and depression in 2020 compared to just 11% in 2019. Further driving home the point, according to Mind Share Partners’ 2021 Mental Health at Work Report, 84% of respondents said their workplace conditions had contributed to at least one mental health challenge.
In his 2022 report, “Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health & Well-Being in the Workplace,” United States Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy identified five priorities—or essentials—which create a framework for addressing workplace mental health and well-being. According to the report, these essentials—and suggested steps to achieving them—include:
1. 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. 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.
2. Connection and Community: Fostering positive social interaction and relationships in the workplace supports worker well-being. To promote practices that better assure connection and community, workplaces can:
- Create cultures of inclusion and belonging;
- Cultivate trusted relationships;
- Foster collaboration and teamwork.
3. Work-Life Harmony: 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.
4. Mattering at Work: 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.
5. 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.
So how have some of our country’s leading companies taken the lead in addressing these essentials?
Asana (framework essentials noted in the examples below include work-life harmony and protection from harm)
The software company Asana supplements its traditional health, dental and vision coverage with creative, and in some instances, affordable, benefits, including 16 weeks of paid parental leave, unlimited paid time off, flexible working schedules, a casual dress code, a pet-friendly workplace, nap rooms, resource groups for underrepresented groups and their allies, and meeting-free Wednesdays.
Ocean Spray (framework essentials noted in the examples below include mattering at work and connection and community)
As part of its impressive benefits package, Ocean Spray, an American agricultural cooperative of growers of cranberries used in the production of drinks and sauces, waives behavioral health copays for its employees. The company also offers no-cost behavioral counseling telemedicine sessions.
Ocean Spray launched a campaign specifically addressing mental health issues. Called “Act tiny, be mighty,” the campaign trains leadership to check in with employees, and, if they notice something concerning, to point them in the direction of available resources. It also encourages employees to check in with each other in an effort to create a supportive workplace.
Microsoft (framework essentials noted in the examples below include work-life balance, opportunity for growth, mattering at work)
The software giant Microsoft provides work-life balance through flexible work schedules and generous vacations. And it also offers financial education and tuition assistance, which can help relieve stress among workers. Add to that, the company provides numerous opportunities for its workforce to stay current in their fields and expand their knowledge through online and in-person technical, management and professional development classes. Moreover, Microsoft’s Aspire Experience prepares employees for the next stage of their careers, and its social and networking groups enable colleagues and peers to connect on a more social level.
Adobe (framework essentials noted in the examples below include mattering at work and protection from harm)
The creative software company Adobe has made employee mental health a priority in 2023. Each quarter is dedicated to creative solutions to address finances, career goals, building relationships, physical activity, psychological safety, philanthropy and balancing work and life. In addition, the company’s Learning Fund reimburses employees for professional development, conferences and seminars, and its rewards program recognizes service milestones, innovation, and employees who exemplify Adobe’s core values.
As companies continue to emphasize the importance of mental health, more pioneering programs will be introduced into the workplace. What can you do now—and into the future—to ensure your employees understand that you recognize their worth?