U.S. Surgeon General Releases New Framework for Workplace Mental Well-Being


The last two-plus years have taken a serious toll on workers’ mental well-being.

Recent data from McKinsey reinforces this fact, finding half of all Americans saying the coronavirus pandemic was the most traumatic event they’ve lived through. The same 2021 study found one of every three employees saying that their return to the workplace had a negative effect on their mental health, and that they’re feeling anxious and depressed.

Many employers had recognized the importance of employees’ mental health prior to the pandemic, but the COVID-19 era has led more organizations to prioritize mental well-being. Another 2021 survey, for instance, found 92% of employee benefits leaders saying that providing mental health support for their people became a higher priority last year, with 93% saying they don’t expect that to change over the next three years.

The U.S. Surgeon General recently announced a new resource designed to help employers provide the type of mental well-being support their employees need.

Vivek Murthy, MD, America’s 21st surgeon general, has released the new Surgeon General’s Framework for Mental Health & Well Being in the Workplace, which highlights “five essentials for workers in organizations and businesses of every size to help leaders develop policies and practices that support the mental health and well-being of workers,” according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Citing a number of further studies that underscore the importance of emphasizing mental health in the workplace—one American Psychological Association survey finds 81% of workers reporting they will look for employers that support mental health in the future, for example—the document outlines the role employers should play in promoting employees’ mental health.

“A healthy workforce is the foundation for thriving organizations and healthier communities. As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity and the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being, and this Surgeon General’s Framework shows us how we can start,” Dr. Murthy said in a prepared statement.

“It will require organizations to rethink how they protect workers from harm, foster a sense of connection among workers, show workers that they matter, make space for their lives outside work, and support their growth. It will be worth it because the benefits will accrue for workers and organizations alike.”

5 Essentials for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being

As part of the new framework, Dr. Murthy submits five essentials for workplace mental health and well-being:

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. In order 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. In order 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: 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. 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.

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