Last month, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued a report alerting Americans to the poor conditions of the workplace in the United States. Many questioned why surgeons general might concern themselves with the private sector, yet as the appointed national head of public health, Murthy is not just a doctor of internal medicine. Murthy is responsible for alerting the American public to problematic trends that affect the health of the nation. In this sense, his oversight covers an immense range, from gun violence to homelessness to dietary issues. If the conditions of an environment threaten the well-being of the nearly 160 million employees who make up our workforce, it is his duty to inform us of the risks.
By now, most of us are familiar with the worrying statistics on the overwhelming numbers of workers who report that their jobs adversely affect their mental health. As Murthy succinctly explains, for 84% of workers, workplace conditions have “contributed to at least one mental health challenge,” and 81% say they will look “for workplaces that support mental health in the future.” This crisis is concerned with far more than mere inconvenience or hurt feelings. The mind and body are integrally linked; anything we suffer mentally will ultimately impact our physical well-being. From sleep deprivation to weight fluctuations to substance abuse, many physical issues relate to damaging stressors in the workplace. Ultimately, these dynamics can lead to chronic problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
A key component of Murthy’s work in this area is The U.S. Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health & Well-Being, pictured above. A five-branched diagram depicts the goals of workplace health and well-being:
- Protection from Harm – The workplace should be an environment where employees feel that they have mental health resources to ensure their well-being.
- Connection & Community – Workplace cultures should foster collaboration, open communication, and inclusion.
- Work-Life Harmony – Workers should have some autonomy in the ways their work can accommodate their individual lives.
- Mattering at Work – Workers should not have to wonder why their work matters; their roles need to be explicitly linked to the organization’s mission, and their compensation should reflect the importance of that link.
- Opportunity for Growth – Workers should receive mentorship and opportunities to develop skills, educating and training themselves toward career advancement that benefits the organization as well as individual employees.
Having spent a career in human resources before opening my own HR consultancy, I fully subscribe to the surgeon general’s recommendations. In everything we do at TG Consultancy, I aim to strengthen unique organizational cultures with core supports that protect and empower workers, maximizing productivity company-wide. Workplace health and organizational profitability are inextricably linked.
While the COVID-19 pandemic worsened some of these problems, there are promising signs as we head toward 2023. According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, 70% of respondents report that their employers have become more concerned about workers’ mental health, a statistic highlighted in the surgeon general’s document. Business leaders increasingly understand the critical importance of their staff’s well-being, both ethically and operationally. If this awareness translates into increased investment in resources that benefit individual workers and organizational performance, then we can look forward to a positive shift in the future.