Surgeon General’s Mental Health Framework Explores What Work Could Be

Work is something that can provide purpose, personal growth, connection, and community. Sadly, this is not the reality for many American workers. Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many American workplaces face challenges, including a lack of staff, mental health struggles, addiction, and more.

On top of this, workplaces may lack appropriate staff, leadership, policies or resources to manage personnel well. This can lead to complaints with government agencies, litigation, or at a minimum workplace turmoil. Compounded across companies, sectors, and time, this can cause huge losses in GDP and incalculable human misery.

Many legal professionals are likely to have experienced these issues when handling client matters or even in our own firms. As an employment and local government attorney, I have certainly seen an increase in mental health issues in my law practice. These mental health issues affect individuals, workplaces, families, and our national economy.

This is why the US Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, released a new framework last week on Workplace Mental Health and Well-Being. In some ways, the framework appears to reckon with the scope of the national mental health crisis. It synthesizes in a 30-page document several indicators detailing how much mental health problems costs individuals and companies.

Fortunately, though, the document also offers a structure of what employers, policymakers, and voters can do to make a change. “Worker Voice and Equity” serves as the hub of the framework, supported by five spokes, including:

  • Protection from Harm
  • Connection & Community
  • Work-Life Harmony
  • Mattering at Work
  • Opportunity for Growth.

Particular policy recommendations, including for example access to training and feedback, paid leave, and policies limiting out-of-office communications, are recommended throughout. However, the comprehensive and holistic approach to the framework may be most impactful. Because it is rooted in meeting the human needs of workers (safety, connection, growth, and meaning), it acknowledges how various workplace issues intersect.

Indeed, I have often seen discussions of DEI and workplace civil rights separated in the past. The Framework, however, appears premised on the idea that the issues intersect. As such, it suggests that a functional, inclusive, respectful, and collaborative workplace supported by robust policies and benefits is the best way to support employee mental health.

In this way, the framework invites us to reimagine what the American workplace could be. It posits that our society can “build workplaces that are engines of well-being, showing workers that they matter, that their work matters, and that they have the workplace resources and support necessary to flourish.”

Can you imagine what your workplace would be like if that was true? Can you imagine what the world would look like if that was true in most workplaces?

Of course, the work lies ahead for us to build such a reality. But it helps that the highest public health official in the United States has recognized the significance of the issue and offered a vision for how things can improve. The Surgeon General’s Framework is of course only a step in the right direction but it is worth your time to check it out.

If you haven’t yet read the framework document, the following 2-minute video offers a summary and highlights. Check it out here.

Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out our founder’s new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, which is available on Amazon.

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