Surgeon general proposes ‘equity’ as way to boost mental health in the workplace
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy on Thursday released a 48-page guide that says companies should promote mental health in the workplace by embracing the “foundational principles of equity and the voices of all workers.”
Murthy said the guide is aimed at addressing the way employees approach the workplace in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he said is forcing employers to “rethink how they protect workers from harm, foster a sense of connection among workers, show workers that they matter, make space for their lives outside work, and support their growth.”
Murthy said a 2021 survey showed that three-quarters of workers report at least one symptom of a mental health condition, and more than four-fifths are looking for jobs that support mental health. Murthy’s plan includes five components that are “centered on the worker voice and equity.”
The guide defines equity as “a more equitable policy and practice environment,” and says this is achieved by “operationalizing relevant policies and programs in ways that ensure safety.”
“This includes confronting structural racism, microaggressions, ableism, and implicit bias,” the guide says. “In inclusive workplace cultures, all workers, including those with disabilities and from diverse racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, feel safe to be authentic and express their feelings because they trust that their coworkers welcome and value their unique perspectives.”
“When diversity is celebrated as a source of strength, workers experience less stress and anxiety as bias and prejudice is not tolerated,” the guide adds. “Inclusive leadership is vital for fostering diversity among teams and is required to support a work environment where all team members feel valued and represented.”
The guide recommends five components centered on equity for companies looking to foster mental health. First is protection from harm, which calls on companies to “operationalize” diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility practices.
Second is connection and community, which calls on companies to create cultures of inclusion and foster teamwork.
Next is supporting work-life harmony, which says companies should make schedules flexible, offer more paid leave, and “respect boundaries between work and non-work.”
Companies should also make sure people feel they matter at work, which can be done by offering a living wage and creating a culture of “gratitude and recognition.”
Last, companies should provide opportunities for growth, which means offering training and education people can use to advance their careers.
The surgeon general’s guidance is one of several efforts the Biden administration has made to push the principles of diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA). A group of government diversity officers met in late September and said the government’s work in this area should serve as a model for private companies.
Democrats have released legislative proposals to give the Federal Emergency Management Agency a mandate to address equity as it distributes disaster relief.
The Department of Agriculture recently released tens of millions of dollars in the name of “equality and justice for all.”
And just this week, the Biden administration awarded $2.8 billion to companies that pledged to implement DEIA principles.