High-stress jobs deteriorating Americans’ mental health

High-stress jobs deteriorating Americans’ mental health

A new report is warning that the American workplace needs to change to better support the emotional and physical well-being of employees. The report recommends organizations make mental health benefits easily accessible, encourage time off for emotional well-being and provide better wages for lower-paid workers. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy joined Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A new report out today from the U.S. surgeon general is warning that the American workplace needs to change to better support the emotional and physical well-being of employees.

    The report recommends organizations make mental health benefits easily accessible. Among other things, it encourages time off for emotional well-being and calls for better wages for lower-paid workers. It also points to a lower risk of depression for employees who feel valued on the job.

    Let’s go deeper on all this with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who is here with me now.

    Dr. Murthy, thank you very much for joining us.

    This is not something we normally think of associated with your office, the Office of Surgeon General. Why the focus, the attention now?

  • Dr. Vivek Murthy, U.S. Surgeon General:

    Well, thanks, Judy.

    This is not a topic our office usually discusses. And this is, in fact, the very first time the Office of the Surgeon General has put out a framework on workplace mental health and well-being.

    But here’s why I did it, because it’s undeniable that the workplace has a powerful impact on our mental health. And especially after we have come through the pandemic, which has really strained and stressed workers in a profound way, many workers are going through a reckoning, where they’re asking themselves what they want out of work and also what they’re willing to sacrifice for work.

    It turns out that when we invest in the mental health and well-being of our workers, two things happen. Our workers are better off, but, also, the organizations are better off. Their productivity, their retention, creativity in the work force all go up.

    So it’s a win-win to focus on mental health in the workplace. And this is why I’m issuing this report, because we need every workplace to know that this is achievable. I have been working with organizations across the country that are implementing the kind of essentials, the five essentials that I lay out in this framework.

    And they’re seeing results. And I want every workplace to have that opportunity as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you do lay out these five essentials.

    Pick a few of them and talk about how you think they could make a difference.

  • Dr. Vivek Murthy:

    Mental health in the workplace is grounded in five key essentials, essentials like protecting workers from harm.

    We know that everybody wants to work in a workplace that’s physically and psychologically safe. They need to also have time off after work to be able to recover. And that that’s a key part of ensuring that workers are well.

    But we also know that there are other essentials and matters, like community and connection in the workplace. This is an often-underappreciated one, but it turns out that, when we have healthy connections with our colleagues at work, it actually makes us more productive. It makes us more likely to stick around on the job, and it makes it makes for better productivity and an overall culture in the workplace.

    So, like these, there are other essentials that workplaces can consider that will enhance work/life harmony, that will contribute to opportunities for growth, that will help workers feel like they matter and that they are valued.

    And all of these are the pillars for mental health in the workplace.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And you do include in all that pay and benefits that you say will allow workers to get the sort of, not just free time, but enjoy — enjoy the kinds of things that more of them, you say, you argue, they should enjoy.

  • Dr. Vivek Murthy:

    Well, that’s right, Judy.

    And it turns out pay is a critical piece of this, because adequate pay and, in fact, a livable wage, they help us feel valued, but they also help us to support our family, to fulfill our responsibilities outside of work.

    And what this gets to, Judy, is a broader point, which is that workplace mental health and well-being should be available to everyone. I issued this framework not just for some businesses, not just for nonprofit organizations, but for all organizations big and small, for workers who are in the factories, for retail workers, and for those who are behind computers.

    So this is our opportunity, Judy, as we make our way through this pandemic, as people are rethinking their relationship with work. This is our chance to remake the workplace into an engine of mental health and well-being. And, if we do so, we will help workers, we will help organizations, and we will all be better off.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And is there hard evidence, Dr. Murthy, that these kinds of steps can make a difference?

  • Dr. Vivek Murthy:

    There is. And that’s the reason that we issued this framework.

    We talk to researchers and academic scholars all across the country. We work with large and small organizations, with unions, with associations that represent businesses. And we looked at the data ourselves. And it’s actually very compelling, the evidence that investing in mental health and well-being helps organizations meet their financial goals and helps them retain talent in the workplace.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What is the teeth here? How do you — can you make employers do this? What kind of leverage can you, as surgeon general, representing the federal government, have ultimately on private employers and others?

  • Dr. Vivek Murthy:

    Well, it’s a good question, Judy.

    And I would point out that we, in part, put this framework out as a response to so many inquiries from nonprofit organizations and businesses that were saying, hey, we see that our workers are struggling in terms of their mental health. What do we do about it?

    You see, I think a lot of businesses are realizing, especially through the course of the pandemic, that the mental health of their workers really matters, that it’s tied to their health as a company.

    What they haven’t always known is how to approach mental health, how to make it better. Many have asked us, is it only about wages or is it about something more than that?

    And so that’s why we laid out this framework, to help organizations understand the five key areas to focus on if they want to enhance mental health. But we also wanted workers, Judy, to know that these essentials are out there, so they have a framework to start conversations in their workplace and also a framework to guide them as they look for new workplaces.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It’s almost as if the pandemic has shone a light on some of these issues that have been there for a long time, but now we’re seeing them more clearly.

  • Dr. Vivek Murthy:

    Well, I think that’s right, Judy.

    And that’s why, right now, 81 percent of workers are saying that they want to find a workplace that supports mental health and well-being. And it’s why, as surgeon general, my broader focus is on mental health and well-being overall. We have come through so much during this pandemic. We have dealt with so much and sacrificed so much.

    It’s taken a toll on our mental health. And of the many things that we have got to do to address that, one of the avenues of action are — is in workplaces. We know that people spend, on average, half of their waking hours in work. And that means that the workplace is a key part of their lives.

    And we also know, Judy, when we have a tough day at work, it impacts how we show up for our family. And that means that enhancing workplace well-being is not just good for the workplace. It helps the community and our families as well.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Dr. Vivek Murthy, who is the U.S. surgeon general, thank you very much.

  • Dr. Vivek Murthy:

    Thank you so much, Judy.



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