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Mental Health Must Be a Top Priority in the Workplace

Mental Health Must Be a Top Priority in the Workplace

The U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. released a report providing a framework for workplace mental health and wellbeing. Dedicated to all the workers who lost their lives during the pandemic and their families, the report is a call to action to lift the voices of all workers, particularly those most vulnerable, and to protect their health and wellbeing.

[Related: Employee Languishing: It’s a Real Thing]

Negative job factors are unhealthy.

The report indicates that having a bad boss isn’t just a source of frustration - it can be bad for your health. Toxic workplaces, low wages, discrimination, overwork, harassment, and long commutes are linked to chronic physical and mental conditions like heart disease, cancer, depression, and anxiety.

The ongoing COVID journey has caused many to rethink boundaries, work/life integration, values, and what constitutes a healthy workplace.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the nature of work, and the relationship many workers have with their jobs. The link between our work and our health has become even more evident. These role conflicts can magnify psychological stress, increase the risk for health behaviors such as smoking, unhealthy dietary habits, alcohol and substance use, and medication overuse, and cause disruptions to relationships both at work and at home. -U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy

Essentials for workplace mental health and wellbeing.

TheWorkplace Mental Health and Wellbeing report focuses on solutions that are implementable in any work environment. Centered on the worker voice and equity, these five essentials support workplaces as engines of wellbeing.

Each essential is grounded in human needs, shared across industries and roles. Creating a plan with all workers to enact these components can help reimagine workplaces as engines of wellbeing.

Protection from harm.

  • Prioritize workplace physical and psychological safety.
  • Enable adequate rest.
  • Normalize and support mental health.
  • Operationalize diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility norms, policies, and programs.

Connection and community.

  • Create cultures of inclusion and belonging.
  • Cultivate trusted relationships.
  • Foster collaboration and teamwork.

Work-life harmony.

  • 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.

Mattering at work.

  • Provide a living wage.
  • Engage workers in workplace decisions.
  • Build a culture of gratitude and recognition.
  • Connect individual work with organizational mission.

Opportunity for growth.

  • Offer quality training, education, and mentoring.
  • Foster clear, equitable pathways for career advancement.
  • Ensure relevant, reciprocal feedback.

[Related: Establish a Gossip-Free Workplace]

Measuring wellbeing.

Wellbeing is top of mind for individuals, organizations, and governments around the world, specifically how to measure, enhance and sustain it. The Wellbeing for Planet Earth Foundation and Gallup joined to create the Global Wellbeing Initiative (GWI) in early 2020.

The GWI aims to develop a more global and inclusive understanding of wellbeing - one that acknowledges and incorporates cross-cultural perspectives into the science of wellbeing. It is through elevating global perspectives on wellbeing that the GWI will establish global wellbeing metrics and in doing so empower individuals, organizations, and governments to better understand how to promote wellbeing for all.

The massive international effort to better understand wellbeing, as well as how to qualify and quantify it, sends a strong message to companies in all industry sectors that the health and wellbeing of their employees should be a top priority. Wellbeing data can be a tool for delivering better policies for people around the world and understanding inequities.

Act now, before it’s too late.

Leaders can influence a positive culture shift and elevate mental health in the workplace. These supportive workplace practices will boost employee mental health, company morale, and your bottom line. It will also build a deep bench of talent for leadership succession plans and positively impact recruiting and retention outcomes.

On average, we spend 90,000 hours of our lifetimes at work. That number will continue to increase as people work well beyond 65 years of age. Employers have an ethical responsibility to ensure that those hours are spent in environments that support the mental health of employees and their families. It’s the right thing to do for the people working and the return on investment is positive for business outcomes.

The worker’s market is still in play, so companies unwilling to support the holistic needs of their workforce will have a perpetual revolving door of talent and a negative reputation that is difficult to repair.

[Related: How to Interview Your Prospective Boss Before You Accept a New Role]

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Caroline Dowd-Higgins is passionate about unlocking the art-of-the-possible in her work with individuals and organizations as a career and executive coach, consultant, and speaker. She authored the book "This Is Not the Career I Ordered" and maintains the career reinvention blog of the same name. Her online video series about career & life empowerment is on YouTube. Caroline hosts the 3-time award winning podcast, Your Working Life, on iTunesSpotify, and SoundCloud. Follow her on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Her TEDxWOMEN talk about reframing failure and defining success on your own terms is available on YouTube. Her new book, “Your Career Edge: Overcome Challenges to Achieve a Rewarding Work Life,” will launch in early 2023.


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