As we sat down to consider our well-being trends for the coming year, we quickly noticed that this year’s list looked a lot like last year’s. Employee mental health; creating a culture of well-being; diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging at work; and enhancing the employee experience – all of these will continue to be priorities for 2023, and we expect to see a deepening of employer efforts in these areas. In this week’s blog we’ll delve into the first two priorities: normalizing mental health in the workplace and aligning well-being to the culture of your organization. Check in next week for Part 2.
Priority #1: Normalizing Mental Health in the Workplace
Without a doubt, mental health is now the primary dimension of most employers’ well-being strategy. This is because across all generations and roles so many employees are feeling stressed, isolated, frustrated, or depressed.
Mind Share Partners research found that 76% of U.S. workers reported at least one symptom of a mental health condition (anxiety, depression) – an increase of 17 percentage points in just two years.1 These feelings are even more acute among younger workers. We have also seen this in our own book of business: from 2019 to 2021 we observed an increase in risks for sleep, stress, and emotional health among WebMD Health Services’ participants.
What’s new this year when it comes to mental health is the acknowledgement that our workplaces play a significant role in our lives and most certainly affect multiple dimension of our well-being. And, importantly, that employer support for mental health is a now a must-have retention factor.
In support of the notion that workplaces need to be involved in creating a mentally healthy workforce, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek C. Murthy recently released The Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being, which explores the connection between the well-being of workers and the health of organizations.1
In it, Dr. Murthy states: “Organizations can further normalize and support mental health while decreasing stigma at work by validating challenges, communicating mental health and well‑being as priorities, and offering both support and prevention services.”
What can your organization do to continue to move the needle on mental health this year?
- Re-evaluate your mental health offerings to ensure you are meeting the needs of all employees. Just as there are many different mental health concerns, there is also no one-size-fits-all approach to treating mental health.
- Offer multiple ways to receive counseling: in-person, video, and chat.
- And, offer other types of support in the form of mental health podcasts, webinars, and educational materials.
- Prepare and train managers. This is one of the biggest ways you can reduce the stigma of mental health at your organization. Ensure managers know how to have a conversation about mental health and can point employees to the resources that are available.
- Take stock of your Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs can provide counseling and mental health referrals to employees. But therapists are in short supply these days, so be sure the EAP is setting the right expectations up front.
- Create a mental health taskforce or Employee Resource Group. These groups can regularly promote the importance of mental health at work and raise awareness of suicide prevention. It’s also a place where employees can feel psychologically safe to talk about sensitive mental health concerns.
- Explore external recognition. The extent to which an employer supports mental health is becoming a differentiator for job seekers. So although recognition should not be a reason to offer mental health support, you may wish to tap into organizations that recognize employers who do. The Carolyn C. Mattingly Award for Mental Health in the Workplace3 and the APA’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards,4 among others, offer a chance to make your well-being efforts known. Not quite ready for an award? You also can look at the award criteria as a roadmap for baseline practices you can implement at your own organization.
- Most importantly, acknowledge that mental health doesn’t live in a vacuum. Mental health contributes to and is influenced by the social determinants of health; diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging; physical health; and financial well-being. So as you evaluate your mental health offerings, make sure that you’re providing support for other aspects of well-being, too.
Priority #2: Aligning Well-Being to the Culture of Your Organization
Workplace wellness programs have seen quite a transformation in the last few decades. Initially focused on lifestyle changes like tobacco cessation, weight loss, condition management, and increasing physical activity, employee well-being programs have grown to encompass so much more: mental health, financial wellness, social connections, diversity and inclusion – the list goes on.
And now we have another change happening, a shift toward a true “culture of health,” in which well-being programs will play a key role. This shift comes on the heels of the pandemic which prompted a reevaluation of work itself, and generated new thinking on what employers should be responsible for when it comes to helping employees lead a healthy, balanced life.
While many workers are returning to the office and some semblance of normalcy, it’s not like we can just pick back up where we left off in 2020. We can’t even call it the “new normal” because there is nothing normal about the unrelenting societal, cultural, and geopolitical upheaval we’ve all experienced in the last three years.
We’ve taken to calling this new world of work the “never normal.” And we firmly believe that for any company to succeed in the “never normal,” they need healthy and engaged employees who can bring their best selves to work in order to meet the disruptions ahead.
The good news is that employers are uniquely equipped to help make health and wellness a priority for employees. They have the ability to create a shared culture and common purpose, and they provide the communication platforms, support tools, programs, and incentives that drive engagement and influence behavior.
So what are some of the hallmarks of a culture of health employers should be working towards?
1. Well-being as a strategic priority. Organizations with a true culture of health will prioritize well-being as a business objective, in acknowledgement of the fact that employee well-being is potentially one of the biggest contributors to business growth. We’ll move beyond just having a well-being program that lives under the tent of benefits to a framework that guides business decisions and is woven into the fiber of the organization and its culture. We may even see the appointment of Chief Well-being Officers, which sends a powerful signal to current and prospective employees that health and well-being is a corporate value.
2. A sense of purpose. Research by McKinsey found two-thirds of employees felt that COVID-19 had caused them to reflect on their purpose in life.5 So, more than a high salary or unique perks and benefits, employee well-being can be enhanced by connecting employees to the corporate mission and giving them the sense of purpose and fulfillment they are craving.
3. Social connection and community. Seventy-two percent of employees say it’s important for them to feel like part of a community at work.6 Social connection is known to lead to increased happiness, better physical health, and even a longer life, which is why it will increasingly become essential to workplace well-being.7
4. A special focus on supporting leaders and managers. With increased responsibilities, turnover, and uncertainty, leaders are burning out. Gallup reports that while stress, anxiety, and diagnosed depression declined in 2021 for individual contributors and high-level leaders, it increased for managers.8 Only 1 in 3 managers are emotionally engaged at work, and managers experienced the highest drop in engagement over the past year.9 Healthy workplace cultures will need to prioritize ways to support mid-level managers.
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Be sure to check in next week for Part 2 of our Well-Being Priorities for 2023. In the meantime, if you have any questions or need help navigating the ever-evolving well-being landscape, visit our website or contact us at email@example.com.