A look at top leadership priorities for supporting workplace mental health

A look at top leadership priorities for supporting workplace mental health

They are not secret companies and their employees live in turbulent times. A once-in-a-century pandemic, supply chain chaos, ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and 40-year high rates of inflation are transforming our lives and workplaces. The challenges piling up today are forcing employers to take steps that will create workplaces where their employees can thrive – professionally, emotionally and mentally.

COVID-19 has sounded the alarm to employers about the mental health issues of their workers.

The warning signs were already apparent. But the pandemic has accelerated the need for a response. A recent Lyra Health survey revealed that employee mental health is at an all-time low. A staggering 84% of workers reported at least one mental health issue in the past year, with issues including stress, burnout, anxiety, depression, PTSD and bipolar disorder , all prevalent.

To help companies navigate this time and understand how to better protect, promote and deliver services that support the mental well-being of their employees, last week One Mind at Work brought together a group of CEOs, CHROs, D academic experts, people with lived experience and leaders of healthcare organizations to discuss the most effective strategies for creating a work environment that meets the needs of employees. Based on these discussions, four key priorities were identified:

First, companies should regularly measure progress on workplace mental health.

Successful leaders understand the importance of tracking improvements across dozens of business milestones. They do it every day. This same rigorous analysis and demonstrable metrics should be applied to mental health programs. With clear benchmarks, clear definitions, and clear conceptions of what workplace wellness looks like, employers can continuously assess the improvement, use, and awareness of company policies and resources. Evidence-based data should guide leadership in measuring workplace mental health progress over time. And CEOs and boards should be accountable for achieving results.

For companies struggling in this area, the Mental Health + Work Design Lab of Columbia, Ethisphere and One Mind has developed a standardized assessment tool that allows organizations to compare their programs and services. The Workplace Mental Health IndexMT is currently in beta testing and will launch to the public in early 2023.

Second, companies should focus on implementing a reintegration strategy to help navigate the new normal.

The pandemic has upended many of the certainties we once had about what is normal and what is needed in the workplace. Navigating this environment requires helping employees adapt to changing policies and attitudes about work. Reintegration supports psychologically safe workplaces by offering clear guidance on expectations and communicating openly and transparently to reduce stress and confusion. Reintegration also demonstrates a commitment to supporting mental health and gives organizations a chance to recalibrate how they engage with mental health support.

Third, companies and senior executives need to lead by example when it comes to mental health.

Employers who put mental health first and executives who lead by example are catalysts for culture change. This means modeling healthy behavior, sharing mental health challenges, and creating space for open conversations – all of which create a culture of wellbeing in the workplace. Showing vulnerability is important, especially in times of crisis. This type of empathetic leadership requires leaders who both endorse and embrace mental health initiatives.

Fourth, companies must support workplace wellbeing for the next generation.

The future of work depends on the support of Generation Z. This group enters the labor market with new expectations regarding the social contract between employers and employees. Business leaders must create a healthy and empathetic work culture to attract, retain and satisfy this rising generation of talent. This includes meaningful impact and empathetic engagement in workplace mental health efforts through organizational policies, initiatives and resources as well as mental health awareness and prevention strategies.

No one company has a monopoly on what the “new normal” will ultimately look like. But companies that focus on employee mental health through these four priorities will take the lead when it comes to successfully maintaining, supporting and measuring employee wellbeing.

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