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Surgeon General's Workplace Mental Health Guide

2023 is here, but let’s not forget the wisdom 2022 imparted. Toward the end of last year, the U.S. Surgeon General, acknowledging the impacts of the pandemic on the roiling mental health crisis, released a framework for workplace mental health and wellbeing.

What are the Five Essentials covered in the framework?

COVID shifts the way we work

For starters, the pandemic has profoundly altered the way we work, in the process bringing the relationship between work and wellbeing into sharper relief.

Indeed, the heightened focus has served to reveal the extent of the mental health and wellbeing crisis.

How severe is the crisis?

Survey evidence shows that over three quarters of U.S. workers have at least one symptom of a mental health condition, a sharp increase over previous years.

More illuminating still, more than four in every five workers reported looking for workplaces that support mental health. Even more reported at least one workplace factor that had a negative impact on their mental health.

As a result, quiet quitting, i.e., doing the minimum requirements of one's job and putting in no more time, effort, or enthusiasm than necessary, has become a media buzzword.

Policymakers, in their turn, have responded.

Download Guide to Wellbeing Management & Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace

What’s in the Framework?

In the Framework, for instance, the Surgeon General outlines Five Essentials for Workplace Mental Health and Wellbeing. These Essentials are meant to help organizations develop, institutionalize, and update policies, processes, and practices that best support the mental health and wellbeing of all workers.

The Five Essentials include:

  1. Protection from Harm. Creating the conditions for physical and psychological safety is a critical foundation for ensuring mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. To this end, workplaces can:
    1. Prioritize workplace physical and psychological safety
    2. Enable adequate rest
    3. Normalize and support focusing on mental health
    4. 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 wellbeing. To this end, workplaces can:
    1. Create cultures of inclusion and belonging
    2. Cultivate trusted relationships
    3. Foster collaboration and teamwork
  3. Work-Life Harmony. Professional and personal roles can create work and non-work conflicts. To this end, workplaces can:
    1. Provide more autonomy over how work is done
    2. Make schedules as flexible and predictable as possible
    3. Increase access to paid leave
    4. Respect boundaries between work and non-work time
  4. Mattering at Work. People want to know that they matter to those around them and that their work matters. Knowing you matter has been shown to lower stress, while feeling like you do not can increase the risk for depression. To this end, workplaces can:
    1. Provide a living wage
    2. Engage workers in workplace decisions
    3. Build a culture of gratitude and recognition
    4. 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. To this end, workplaces can:
    1. Offer quality training, education, and mentoring
    2. Foster clear, equitable pathways for career advancement
    3. Ensure relevant, reciprocal feedback

Finally, the Framework serves as a guide to call attention to a clarion public health issue. Although developed to help the American public better understand the situation, it’s addressed to employers whose policies can improve worker health. 

Taken together, these initiatives would work to create mentally healthy places of employment. For more on how to create a workplace with such attributes, download our Guide to Wellbeing Management & Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace.

Download Guide to Wellbeing Management & Developing a Mentally Healthy Workplace