U.S. surgeon general launches national workplace mental health guide in Philadelphia

The U.S. surgeon general chose Philadelphia as the site to launch a national guide for how employers can improve workplace mental health and wellness.

File photo: Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

File photo: Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

America’s relationship with the workplace and the role it serves in people’s lives has taken a turn during the pandemic.

It has business owners and leaders rethinking workplace culture and supports, including taking on more investments in mental health and well-being.

“There’s been a recent reckoning that’s taking place where people are asking themselves two critical questions,” said U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. “‘What do I really want to get out of work?’ and ‘What am I willing to sacrifice for work?’”

U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy meets with business leaders at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia Thurs., Oct. 20, to launch the Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being national framework and guide. (Office of the U.S. Surgeon General)
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Murthy was at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia Thursday to meet with business leaders and launch a national framework for workplace mental health and well-being.

The 30-page guide is intended to help employers and employees build a work environment around five main areas: protection from harm, connection and community, work-life harmony, mattering at work, and opportunity for growth.

“When workplaces support mental health and well-being, then workers do better, they contribute more to the workplace in terms of productivity, creativity, retention,” Murthy said. “But they also end up being able to show up more for their families and for their communities.”

About 76% of U.S. employees reported experiencing at least one symptom of a mental health condition – burnout, depression, or anxiety – within a year, and 84% said at least one workplace factor negatively impacted their mental health, according to a report by Mind Share, a nonprofit training and advising firm.

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In a survey by the American Psychological Association, workers said that their top mental health supports they wished to see at work included flexible hours, workplace culture that respects time off, the ability to work remotely, and a four-day workweek.

Jaime-Alexis Fowler said a disconnect often comes from workers feeling like their concerns and ideas are not being listened to by higher management

Fowler is founder of Empower Work, a nonprofit that provides a crisis text line and counseling support to workers. She said worker voices need to be centered in order to create a better environment for mental health.

“Workers say to us often, ‘I don’t want this to happen to somebody else. I can’t sleep at night, I’m not able to show up for my kids, I may be turning to substance abuse or addiction in a different way than I had before to cope with this,’” Fowler said. “And they’re looking for tools, for resources, and to be heard.”

The U.S. Surgeon General’s new framework was created with input from for-profit and nonprofit organizations and businesses, public and private institutions, unions and labor associations, academic researchers, and others.

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