It’s time to compare mental health in the workplace

When we look around at the state of mental health in the United States, what we see staring back at us is a challenge—15 percent of working-age people have a mental illness, according to the World Health Organization, and the APA found that the $1 trillion annual cost to the world economics related to untreated mental health conditions. Every indication is that the numbers have not improved since these studies were conducted.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore an important conversation about the need to improve mental health in the workplace. There are many employees burnt out and struggling to find work-life balance. Our healthcare workers cannot take care of others without taking care of themselves first. As employers, we have both the responsibility and the opportunity to design our workplaces with the unique mental health needs of our staff in mind. And to make matters more complicated, there is no defined measurement that demonstrates a “good” workforce mental health program.

From a personal perspective, tackling mental health issues head-on by reducing stigma and offering a pathway to wellbeing is important to me because I, like most people, have had first-hand experience of the lasting damage it can do to families and communities. experience mental health challenges afterwards and drug abuse. When leaders see a problem, they must look for a solution.

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So how can we do better?
It’s a simple question. Yet asking this question can be scary—it reveals where the flaws and failures are, but it also reveals opportunities and can challenge our assumptions. URAC has been accrediting healthcare organizations for over 30 years and we believe that ‘mental health’ is ‘health’, so addressing this issue is a natural fit for us. In addition, our first core value as an organization is “We value people,” and that means we value our colleagues, our customers, and the communities they serve. We love having people join our team who believe that meaningful work matters and know that there is more to their lives than the work they do. So we had to ask ourselves how we can do better when it comes to looking after our own employees.

The desire to understand how we can support our employees led us to measure our mental health strategy with Workplace Mental Health Index. Answers to the questions in the Index allowed us to benchmark the maturity of our workplace mental health services against other organisations, using the leading research on what matters. We also learned where we excel, and it opened our eyes to a few blind spots that helped us chart a path for improvement.

What we found was:
1. We have done a good job in our benefits design where our employees are supported with appropriate insurance coverage, leave and employee assistance program.
2. URAC has found significant room for growth with staff training specific to mental health, particularly for people managers and our remote workforce. Our best path is to provide staff with the training and tools to succeed.

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Our findings were not unique. Broadly speaking, the Index has so far found that despite increased need and attention, strategic efforts to support workforce mental health are still relatively underdeveloped. Employers tend to invest in areas where there are legal and regulatory requirements and market expectations for the workforce. But progress has been slower when it comes to worker engagement, work design and organizational culture.

With the goal of enabling others to go through a similar process, we recently launched a Accreditation for mental health in the workplace A program built by the Workplace Mental Health Index to measure how well organizations protect the mental health of employees. The accreditation assesses how effectively organizations create psychological safety, provide access to mental health treatment and focus on a positive atmosphere that cultivates and celebrates employee strengths. It also helps strengthen the organization’s plans to strengthen its mental health strategy. Ultimately, accreditation provides a “gold star” to organizations that are dedicated to employee well-being.

Many of us tick the box to say “we do,” but fewer of us do it well. I am committed to using URAC’s findings from our engagement with the Workplace Mental Health Index to develop an organization-wide strategy that includes protecting mental health, promoting psychological wellbeing and providing information, resources and services. We will start with a three-year strategy that has specific goals to demonstrably and demonstrably improve the lives of our employees. We will also continue to review our progress and adjust as we learn more from the experiences of other organizations. We know this is more than a motivational poster or a pizza party, and this meaningful change takes time.

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As leaders, we need to drive organizational-level changes that protect workers’ psychological well-being and prevent problems from occurring in the first place. Having received our roadmap for priority actions, we are working to implement the critical recommendations that will lead to the greatest improvement in our mental health strategy.

We also need to do more to measure, monitor and report on workforce mental health efforts. Programs like our new accreditation can help meet this need. Without data, we cannot make informed, strategic decisions about how to most effectively improve the mental health of the workforce. We are on this vital journey and hope more organizations will join for the sake of their people, their families and their communities. This job can’t wait.

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