Even though most of us don’t end up keeping our New Year’s resolutions — which is why I prefer a different approach of goal setting — there’s a reason why the new year makes us thoughtful about our lives. Psychologists call it the “fresh start effect,” and it’s the proven idea that milestones or landmarks in the calendar give us extra motivation and inspiration to reflect, think about our lives and set goals for the future. It’s been a long year — in fact, it’s been a long three years. So much of how we work and our lives has changed since the pandemic began. The shock of the early days of the pandemic brought the idea of mental health and employee well-being to the center of the conversation about work. It both exposed shortcomings in our workplaces and fueled the hunger for a better way of working. And as we look forward to 2023, I think we’re entering more than just a new year. We’re at a new stage in how we think about work and well-being. And the evidence for that is what I’m most hopeful about for the coming year.
I’m talking about the Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health. It was released on October 20th of this year and it’s truly a groundbreaking document. Over the past few years, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about workplace well-being — and as a Chief Well-being Officer, I can say that’s a good thing. But this signals that we’ve reached a new point in that process. It’s the nation’s top health official, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, acknowledging the impact our work has on us and charting a real and comprehensive framework for how to go forward.
Certainly the public is ready for this. The report cites surveys showing that:
• 76% of U.S. workers report having had at least one symptom of a mental health condition.
• 84% say their workplace conditions have contributed to at least one mental health challenge.
• 81% say they’ll be looking for workplaces that support mental health in the future.
These figures are in line with a report from Deloitte and research firm Workplace Intelligence that showed that 57 percent of employees are seriously considering quitting their job for one with better well-being, and that for nearly seven in ten said greater well-being is more important than career advancement.
So the new framework couldn’t be coming at a better time. What I love most about it is that it isn’t just about acknowledging the toll that our work can take on us, as important as that is. The framework declares that we need to go beyond just trying to limit the negative consequences of our work and create workplaces that actually drive positive well-being. As Surgeon General Murthy put it, “As we recover from the worst of the pandemic, we have an opportunity and the power to make workplaces engines for mental health and well-being.”
We often think of our work in terms of financial sustainability. But as the report acknowledges, our work is essential to the sustainability and strength of many other aspects of our well-being.
The framework is divided into five pillars:
• Protection from Harm.
• Connection and Community.
• Work-life Harmony.
• Mattering at Work.
• Opportunities for Growth.
That’s a great whole-human approach. It’s about recognition of the need for life-work integration — that improving our well-being outside of work makes us better at our work, and improving our well-being at work in turns makes us more connected in our lives outside of work.
The framework also includes a range of resources for organizations, from reflection questions for leaders and case studies to assessments and toolkits. And now it’s up to the rest of us to act on this, and begin to create the world of work that we all want. Next, we need to create systems of measurement and accountability to keep the momentum going and ensure that we continue to make progress.
Yes, in so many ways this has been a tragic and challenging time. But as Surgeon General Murthy writes in the introduction, “revitalizing our workplaces to support mental health and well-being is how we can turn a moment of crisis into a moment of progress.” I know we can do just that, and it’s why I’m so hopeful for 2023.