In many ways, 2022 was a milestone year for mental health. With new attention from high-profile organizations, governments, and companies, those of us in the mental health advocacy community can be grateful the issue is finally getting the attention it deserves. For 2023, we must now resolve to build on this momentum by converting attention into action that delivers meaningful improvements to employee wellbeing.
Last year was a call to action. The U.S. Surgeon General issued its first-ever report outlining the foundational role companies can play in promoting and protecting mental health. The WHO released a groundbreaking, evidence-based set of recommendations to improve mental health in the workplace. And President Biden, in a State of the Union address, called for making mental health services available to every American who needs them.
If these headlines were not enough to spur action, there is also mounting evidence behind a strong business case for focusing on mental health in the workplace.
One study found anxiety and depression alone cost the global economy US $1 trillion. A comprehensive 2022 Workplace Survey found 92% of employees experience mental health challenges that impact their work.
Employers have strong reasons to take this challenge seriously; 8 in 10 workers told the American Psychological Association that employer support for mental health is an important consideration when evaluating job opportunities.
It’s true more workplaces now recognize the importance of mental health support. According to one survey, 62% of employers say workplace mental health is already a priority, while 24% plan to prioritize mental health moving forward.
So where can companies looking to energize their workplace mental health strategies get started? Based on our research and experience over the past year, One Mind at Work has identified five key areas:
Supporting diversity of all kinds. Race, gender, sexual orientation, and other measures of diversity are a source of strength for companies. Companies can support employee inclusion by building cultures that champion openness, vulnerability, and respect and creating a workplace that is both psychologically safe and allows neurodiverse individuals the opportunity to thrive. This includes providing culturally responsive mental health care.
Offer flexible work systems. Studies find that low employee control over their worktime (how and when they work) increases the risk of depressive symptoms, psychological distress, burnout, and fatigue. Flexible work options such as remote work, flexible hours, and reduced schedules can have a significantly positive impact on employee quality of life. Companies that get this right can reap the benefits of higher productivity and happier and healthier employees.
Empathetic Leadership. Empathy in the workplace is positively related to job performance. CEO’s can improve employee mental health and their own by modelling healthy behavior, addressing burnout, and building recovery into workflows.
We’ve also seen recent examples of what doesn’t work. Following his recent takeover of Twitter, Elon Musk demanded pledges of loyalty to work “long hours at high intensity”– an example of particularly ineffective management. Research finds that employees working under these conditions tend to have worse mental and physical health.
Addressing Trauma. Covid-19 has intensified the alarming trend of trauma with the WHO finding that 70% of people across 24 countries have experienced trauma. Companies can take steps to build a resilient culture, reduce stigma, encourage leadership to recognize distress among employees.
Importance of Measuring. Tactics to advance mental health progress at work requires precise measurements and clear metrics to ensure their effectiveness. Employers need to apply the same rigor to measuring results in mental health as they do for other traditional business milestones. To fill this gap, One Mind recently launched a Mental health at Work Index, in partnership with Colombia University and Ethisphere.
New Year’s resolutions are often easy to make, but difficult to keep. Let’s make 2023 a year of unprecedented action on mental health in the workplace. The result will be happier employees, a more productive workplace, and one less resolution to make in 2024.