Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, M.D.

Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, released a national framework Thursday to improve mental health and well-being in the workplace. The initiative addresses the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on 160 million American workers and how it has changed the workplace.

“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, and this surgeon general’s framework shows us how we can start,” Murthy said in a statement. “It will require organizations to rethink how they protect workers from harm, foster a sense of connection among workers, show workers that they matter, make space for their lives outside work, and support their growth. It will be worth it, because the benefits will accrue for workers and organizations alike.”

The framework includes five essential elements to help employers update policies, processes, and practices that best support the mental health and well-being of all workers:

  1. Protection from harm, which prioritizes physical and psychological safety; adequate rest; and diversity, equity and inclusion plans.
  2. Connection and community, which promotes positive interactions in the workplace.
  3. Work-life harmony, which includes work autonomy, scheduling flexibility and respect for boundaries.
  4. Mattering at work, which ensures workers a living wage and engages them in the workplace.
  5. Opportunities for growth, which fosters career pathways through education, training and mentoring. 

The surgeon general’s framework for better workplace mental health came two days after the Biden administration announced it was providing another $15 million in funding, in addition to $300 million announced in September, to improve mental health through community behavioral health clinics. It is also a follow-up to an advisory Murthy released last spring addressing ways to mitigate extreme burnout among healthcare workers. 

A number of studies conducted since the onslaught of the pandemic have found anywhere from one-half to three-quarters of healthcare workers, including those in home care, have felt fatigue and burnout in their jobs. More than a third of 400,00 nurses surveyed last spring by Incredible Health said they planned to leave their jobs by the end of the year.