Workforce mental health (WMH) came to the forefront during the pandemic, as the COVID crisis and our response to it disrupted the way we live and work, adding new stressors and amplifying existing ones. Well before the pandemic, issues of employee engagement, burn-out, and “diseases of despair” prompted HERO to focus our research on WMH as well as make it a learning priority at our Think Tanks and Forums. Now with the pandemic waning, at least for now, additional challenges related to returning to the workplace, new hybrid work models, economic and financial strain, and the great resignation further underscore the need for advancing WMH best practices that employers can readily access, understand, and implement.
This Think Tank examined recent and emerging WMH guidance, including standards and guidelines, certification and recognition programs, measurement strategies, and best practice case examples and asks whether the abundance of new resources will lead to significant, sustainable change. Experts and Think Tank participants examined WMH efforts from outside of the United States and the impact they are having, the response from employers, lessons learned, and barriers/facilitators to effective uptake and implementation, as well as how the experience may vary in the United States as a result of different legislative, regulatory, and cultural factors. We also explored implementation issues for employers, such as finding evidence-based guidance and resources, setting a WMH strategy, prioritizing actions, customizing efforts to meet the needs of a diverse workforce, and measuring and monitoring results.
Below, you will find links to examples of WMH guidance including The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, the Thriving at Work standards in the UK, and ISO’s new guidelines on psychological health and safety at work–the first global standard on managing psychosocial risks, as well as resources from other organizations.
The Impact of Best Practice Guidance on Workplace Well-Being More Broadly
How could the “best practices” commonly used in the workplace well-being (WWB) movement inform this Think Tank question about the potential impact of WMH guidance? Related to this, how closely aligned are WWB scorecards such as the HERO, CDC, or AHA scorecards with consensus standards for WWB?
National research led by HERO award-winning researcher Dr. Laura Linnan shows that progress toward national acceptance of best practices approaches has been glacial. The findings from this “Workplace Health in America Survey” of 2,843 companies of all sizes and from many sectors show that “comprehensive programs” increased only slightly between 2004 and 2017. Specifically, only 11.8% of this nationally representative sample met all five of the comprehensiveness criteria. The original national survey from 2004 found that only 6.9% of companies sponsored comprehensive approaches. Similarly, EAPs have been shown to benefit users of the service, but for most companies, a very small proportion of employees use the service.
The 2017 Workplace Health in America Survey defined a comprehensive workplace wellness program as having the five elements recommended by the Healthy People 2010 report: (1) health education; (2) supportive social and physical environment; (3) integration of the program into the organization’s structure; (4) linkage to related programs such as employee assistance programs; and (5) worksite screening and education.
During the 13 years between these national surveys, organizations like HERO were promoting the use of their free scorecard to help employers see how the use of best practices approaches improved employee health. Also during that decade, national accreditation organizations such as URAC and NCQA established voluntary national standards to promote a comprehensive approach to WWB. While many WWB service providers invested in getting these accreditation seals of approval, few employers based their decisions about which WWB vendor to partner with based on these standards.
So, regardless of freely available scorecards and national accreditation standards, there has been a mere 5 percentage point increase in the use of best practices approaches to WWB in America over the past 13 years. What’s more, almost 90% of companies still take a piecemeal approach to supporting WWB. Will best practice guidance on WMH produce greater progress than what has been shown in WWB? This Think Tank asks: “If so, how? If not, why?”
As with all HERO Think Tanks, our faculty of leading experts will be our conversation starters and we will create ample opportunities for HERO members to have meaningful dialogue about the opportunities and challenges related to addressing workforce mental health. What can the WMH movement learn from the dismal adoption of WWB best practices standards? Are guidelines and standards just additional burdens for employers already chafing at bureaucracy and oversight? Or could this guidance serve as a catalyst for innovation and a benchmark that sparks aspirations to improve WMH? In addition to asking how we can improve upon the disappointing pace of the acceptance of best practices in WWB, this Think Tank aims to elevate the WMH conversation at the national level and explore how employers can take an informed, yet tailored, approach that fits their unique organizational and workforce needs.
Learning Objectives. HERO Think Tank Participants will be able to:
- Describe and give examples of the different types of Workforce Mental Health (WMH) guidance available
- Discuss lessons learned from WMH efforts outside of the United States
- List potential barriers to successful implementation of WMH guidance
- Explain psychosocial hazards and risks that can affect workforce mental health
- Compare WMH and WWB best practices adoption
- Identify evidence-based WMH resources that are free and publicly available to employers
- Discuss how to elevate the WMH conversation to a sustained national level
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