One of the century’s biggest world health crises exacerbated another. As employers and employees and their families grappled with deaths, long-term health effects, job losses, business closures, and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic they also grappled increasingly with mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
In an article for Forbes, Dr. Christy Gibson, author of “The Modern Trauma Toolkit,” was quoted as saying mental health issues showing up at work were “the biggest risks facing business in 2023.” She warned that business leaders who expect employees to return to business-as-usual post pandemic will continue to exacerbate the issue.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the century’s biggest world health crises also shown a spotlight on the other. A Harris poll reports that 23% of workers say their employer has introduced new mental health services during the pandemic. Plus, 67% of workers say that mental health services offered are beneficial. And for the first time, in 2022, the U.S. Surgeon General issued a report outlining the role companies can play in promoting and protecting mental health. That same year, The World Health Organization released its own recommendations to improving employee mental health.
Mental health in the workplace seems to finally be getting the attention it deserves.
The Surgeon General’s report introduced a five-step framework for addressing mental health issues in the workplace. These include:
- Protection from harm: Employers should prioritize physical and psychological safety at work, enable adequate rest and normalize supporting mental health. Companies should also have diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility policies in place.
- Connection and community: workplaces can foster positive social interaction and relationships by creating cultures of inclusion and belonging and fostering collaboration and teamwork.
- Work-life harmony: the framework encourages giving workers more autonomy, making schedules as flexible and predictable as possible, and increasing access to paid leave.
- Mattering at work: knowing that you and your work is valued contributes to wellbeing; workplaces should provide a living wage, engage workers in decisions, and build a culture of recognition.
- Opportunities for growth: employers should work to create more opportunities for employees by offering training, education, and mentoring. Clear pathways for career advancement and relevant and reciprocal feedback are also important.
The World Health Organization’s recommendations mirror the Surgeon General’s. They include implementing flexible working arrangements through flextime or remote working opportunities; enlisting employee input in the planning, design and implementation of organizational interventions; prioritizing reasonable workloads—such as setting limits on work hours and requirements for break times; providing safe work environments; and offering positive and constructive performance feedback or rewards.
In both of the institutions’ recommendations, one thing is clear: To be addressed effectively, mental health in the workplace must be a priority from leadership; the commitment to employees’ well-being must be built into a company’s very culture.
Empathy can only be modeled from the top down.