One year ago, we started a collective journey to make our organizations safer and healthier places for our team members to work. Emerging from the most severe phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, our teams began returning to the office with little certainty about what the post-pandemic world of work would look like.

The lines between work and home were blurrier than ever, and as a result, turnover and burnout across the nation’s workforce was at an all-time high. Though some risks were shrinking, the pandemic had brought into focus the critical impact of mental health in our daily lives. Understanding that the office — whether physical or virtual — is where many people spend the majority of their waking hours each week, we recognized that elevating the importance of maintaining and supporting good mental health in our organizations was essential.

It was clear that mental health demanded just as much attention as other consequences of the pandemic and inspired us to come together as CEOs to raise our voices and launch a new initiative, Striving for Mental Health Excellence in the Workplace.

This initiative recognizes that taking concrete actions to support our employees’ mental health will make our organizations stronger. As CEOs, we are well positioned to facilitate a positive cultural shift and normalize mental health in each of our organizations — and we invite other leaders across all sectors to join us in committing to that action.Diverse workers happily chat together

Since we launched the initiative just a year ago, more than 190 organizations — including three dozen cities and counties — have signed our pledge and made a commitment to supporting mental health in the workplace. And we hope you’ll join us. Learn more about the effort and click the “Make the Commitment Now” button to sign onto the pledge on behalf of your organization or local government.

Equipping workers with the tools they need to manage daily stress and handle challenges that impact their mental health costs money, takes time and requires intentionality. But there is strong evidence that the costs of failing to support workers’ mental well-being are much higher. Supporting mental health is not just critical to building better and more effective workplaces — it helps shape strong communities too.

Healthier workplaces build stronger communities
As U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, MBA, says, “Our workplaces play a significant role in our lives.” Not only do employees spend a significant amount of their day in the workplace, but time in the office also influences behaviors outside of work, including what time we get home to see our families, what we wear and how we carry ourselves. Stress from work can also affect home life. This well-researched phenomenon, known as “spillover,” impacts all aspects of our lives, including our health — which in turn impacts our broader community.

We also recognize that mental health is public health. When employers provide adequate mental health benefits for workers and their families, like those outlined in the mental health parity law, these effects reverberate through families and communities. Having the tools to manage issues like stress, depression, anxiety and addiction results in employees having more positive engagement with those around them and being able to contribute more fully to their jobs and communities.

Engaging with employees
Listening to our employees and acknowledging their challenges is a significant part of building a safer and healthier workplace too. According to the American Psychological Association’s Work and Well-being Survey, 48% of employees say a lack of involvement in decision-making contributes to stress in the workplace. Employees say they are more likely to remain in their jobs when they feel they have a voice in organizational decisions, which translates into a more authentic space for engagement and collaboration.

Addressing the rising threat of burnout is also an important piece of the puzzle. We know that burnout — which accelerated during the pandemic and results from workplace stress that has not been successfully managed — can impair workers’ short-term memory, attention and other cognitive processes that are essential for daily work activities and can contribute to mental health challenges. As workplace demands grow, organizations should be focused on preventing burnout by facilitating and supporting work-life harmony to ensure preservation of our employees mental health.

We can all be mental health leaders
Together, our organizations represent local leaders, community YMCAs, public health workers, psychologists and other mental health professionals across the country. Our collective action as leaders can help promote the importance of supporting mental health within our organizations, our sectors and the employees who depend on us.

It starts by shaping culture and building supportive infrastructure within our organizations to help our team members thrive. It also means considering employee assistance programs, reexamining health insurance options that place a greater emphasis on mental health and training supervisors to create a more supportive workplace environment. All of our organizations have committed to taking a critical look at our diversity, equity and inclusion policies to ensure that we’re actively preventing workplace discrimination and fostering a welcoming and safe environment for all employees.

As CEOs of organizations that span the nonprofit sector, local governments, community organizations and more, our leadership around mental health is needed now more than ever — not just to fulfill our organizations’ missions, but also to ensure that all of our employees have the resources they need to thrive. Together, we acknowledge that we’re in a unique position to elevate the importance of mental health in the workplace and build stronger institutions and communities by doing so.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced as a nation, but it won’t be our last one. Building and sustaining a strong organizational culture and infrastructure to support our employees’ mental health will help ensure that we all – whether in government, in the private sector or beyond – are equipped to weather the challenges ahead.

Join us in contributing to the change — and creating better, more positive norms around mental health — today.

— Georges Benjamin, MD, APHA executive director; Arthur Evans Jr., PhD, CEO and executive vice president of the American Psychological Association; Marc Ott, CEO and executive director of the International City/County Management Association; Clarence Anthony, MPA, CEO and executive director of the National League of Cities; and Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of YMCA of the USA.

Photo by SolStock, courtesy iStockphoto