Take a two-pronged approach to mental wellbeing. Workplace mental wellbeing calls for a top-down and bottom-up approach. Senior leaders need to examine the work environment. Does the 9-to-5 structure still make sense? What is the culture around mental health? Are employees comfortable talking about it?
Leadership and management can easily overlook warning signs — especially in a remote work setting. Front-line managers often are overlooked or pressured to care, but lack the resources to act and don't feel comfortable talking about it. There is a trickle-down effect when leaders speak openly about mental health. Equip managers with training and tools to be part of a top-down strategy.
For a bottom-up approach, survey employees about mental health resources they'd like to see in the workplace and use a pulse survey to gather feedback on existing programs. Implement mental health employee resource groups (ERGs), affinity groups and anti-stigma communications to create an open environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their mental health needs. Explore the growing number of mental wellbeing apps to provide employees with a tool to encourage self-care.
Emulate other organizations' successes. Following are some ideas and successes highlighted during the Summit:
- Educate employees about the 988 mental crisis care line.
- Require a mental health certification for managers or incentivize training with pay.
- Google instituted a stigma reduction campaign by sharing real stories.
- Johnson & Johnson created Mental Health Diplomats to enable peer networks and inclusion teams to help bridge and build connections.
- The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) ATLAS program developed a "connection hub" with Walmart to provide conveniently located private spaces with internet access and the necessary technology to meet with VA providers via a secure video connection.
Be an advocate. Employers are just part of the solution. Federal and state governments, payers and care providers all have a role to play. On a long wish list is continued telemedicine coverage in a post-pandemic environment, better coordination of physical and mental wellbeing, requirements for measurement-based care, expansion of app-based therapy and Medicare and Medicaid mandates. Use your voice to advance issues aligned with your wellbeing philosophy.
3. Social determinants of health (SDoH) continue to evolve in public health
Extensive research shows a person's ZIP code is more important than a genetic code in mental health.
Where someone lives is just one example of SDoH. Summit speaker April Joy Damian, vice president of the Weitzman Institute, defines SDoH as "non-medical factors that influence health outcomes." Damian addressed the impact of SDoH — upstream and downstream.
- Key upstream factors include social inequities such as race, immigration status, sexual orientation, and institutional inequities, including those associated with businesses and compensation.
- Downstream factors include risk behaviors — substance abuse, smoking, disease and injury — driving up healthcare costs for employers.
While these factors are complex and societal, employers must recognize the impact of these factors on mental health and explore opportunities to be part of the solution. Engage all stakeholders (including employees) in a dialog about the employer's role.
4. Focus on youth mental wellbeing
The importance of focusing on youth mental wellbeing cannot be understated. Government research4 shows that 3 out of 4 people with mental health problems showed signs before turning 24. Failure to recognize and treat mental issues early on equates to kicking the can down the road — leading to possibly worsening conditions and detrimental outcomes for everyone in their sphere, including an employer. Parents of teens suffering from mental health issues report more stress and loss of productivity at work.
Here are two insights specific to youth mental health:
Support for young employees. Younger employees — especially those in their first jobs — are less likely to approach a manager about a mental health concern, whether work- or home-related. Train managers how to recognize red flags and approach young employees in a non-threatening and supportive way. Think holistically about sources of stress unique to young employees, such as student loan debt and changing lifestyles (from the college campus to the corporate campus), and consider strategies to counter these stressors.
Support for parents of children experiencing mental health issues. Offer flexible work arrangements to support families caring for a child with mental health issues. Balancing work with caring for a child likely adds to an already-stressful situation. Create support groups for working parents and provide education and resources around pediatric therapy. Include coverage for behavioral health for all family members in your benefits plan. Ask working parents what would help their mental wellbeing during times of high need and stress. Set clear expectations about accommodations, but be flexible as situations change.
If your organization would benefit from help getting started on a wellbeing framework that includes mental health or assistance in taking your existing program to the next level, download these insights and learn about the three key components organizations should consider for their wellbeing strategy.
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