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Employees expect mental health support. Here’s where employers can start

October 10, 2022, 11:40 AM UTC
Mental health illustration
About 80% of workers say they want to work for an employer that offers mental health support, according to an American Psychological Association survey.
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Good morning—Amber here! In honor of World Mental Health Day today, Walgreens Boots Alliance’s EVP and global chief human resources officer, Holly May, and Mental Health America’s president and CEO Schroeder Stribling break down three ways employers can support workers’ mental well-being. 

While the COVID-19 pandemic may largely be in our rearview mirror, one likely “long tail” effect is its toll on our nation’s mental health. Whether you have felt the impact personally or witnessed it among family members, friends, or coworkers, the reality is you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who has not felt the pandemic’s negative effect on mental health in some way.

Since 2019, the number of people who visit Mental Health America’s (MHA) website for mental health screening has increased by nearly 500%. And the number of people experiencing anxiety or depression has skyrocketed due to many factorsnot just the pandemic

But this bleak picture of mental health in the U.S. is nothing new. We were facing a mental health crisis long before COVID-19, with more than one in five people experiencing a mental health condition yearly. More than half of them are not receiving treatment, and our health care industry has been ill-equipped to meet the rising demand. 

As employers, our role in supporting our employee population’s physical and mental well-being has never been greater. Leaders can drive action by taking these three steps:

Leverage available resources

Beyond just the rising prevalence of mental health conditions, consider that the vast majority of people in the U.S. have employer-sponsored health care coverage—whether on their own or through a family member. And about 80% of workers surveyed by the American Psychological Association say they want to work for an employer that offers mental health support as part of their benefits package.

Delivering on this responsibility is easier said than done. Mainly because, until recently, there has not been a practical roadmap for employers to build a mentally healthy workplace. MHA and Walgreens recently collaborated to change that. Our Workplace Mental Health Toolkit offers employers resources, best practices, and actionable steps to help foster a healthy and productive workforce. It also includes policy concepts to uplift workers, ensure they feel valued and heard, and improve the overall culture of well-being within one’s organization.

But all the tools, services, benefits, and resources in the world will not make an impact if they aren’t backed by a strong, empathetic, and truly people-first culture.

Focus on human connection

Leaders must encourage open dialogue and reinforce a workplace culture of authenticity and compassion where team members feel safe, supported, and respected.

We need to allow ourselves and our teams to show up authentically, feeling comfortable sharing our personal and professional sides. We must also learn to lead with vulnerability, a powerful tool for creating safe spaces where employees can share concerns. 

One recent example is Walgreens’ “I am, We are” initiative, which encourages team members to share insights about who they are, including six attributes that best describe them, along with a photo. Walgreens’ leaders modeled this act by sharing their cards internally and on external channels like LinkedIn. These have also become team-building tools for meaningful conversations about how managers can best support people’s unique life experiences and priorities.

Invest in your team

Investing in mental well-being is simply good business. According to the World Health Organization, every dollar spent toward mental health treatment leads to a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. Not to mention, when we’re supporting the needs of our people, they are best equipped to meet the needs of our customers, patients, clients, and other stakeholders.

Walgreens began taking steps to meet the growing needs of team members many years before COVID-19, including free counseling sessions and the launch of a mental health first-aid training program. In May 2022, the company introduced an expanded health and well-being program called “Be Well Connected.” Through this, team members and their families can access a range of platforms, including one that features live classes with expert instructors and another that features a documentary film series on mental health topics.

For employers, the time to invest is now. Actually, it was long before now, as the cost of not investing in your employees’ mental health and well-being will only increase.

Amber Burton

Reporter's Notebook

The most compelling data, quotes, and insights from the field.

Hiring slowed in September, according to the latest jobs report released Friday. U.S. companies added 263,000 jobs last month, down from 315,000 in August, and the unemployment rate fell from 3.7% to 3.5%. Though job growth is still considered to be strong, the decline signals a cooling of the labor market. 

So, one might ask, where are the jobs still in demand? These sectors saw the biggest gains in hiring last month: 

Leisure and hospitality: +83,000 jobs

Health care and social assistance: +75,400 jobs 

Professional and business services: +46,000 jobs

Manufacturing: +22,000 jobs

Construction: +19,000 jobs

Around the Table

- GE is laying off about 20% of U.S. employees in its onshore wind division as it evaluates whether to move some of those jobs to Europe. CNBC

- Office workers appear to be among the few employee groups not changing jobs, despite a still strong labor market. Wall Street Journal

- Amazon workers called the $1 raises they received “a slap in the face,” according to leaked documents. Insider

- Data can help employers identify potential causes of employee burnout before it spreads. Quartz

- There’s a growing sense among some workers that the macroeconomic conditions for a previously strong job market could be changing. New York Times 


Everything you need to know from Fortune

Winging it. The Wing was a $365 million co-working startup catering to women’s empowerment. In August, it closed its doors for good after a series of workplace disputes pointing to a culture that didn’t always reflect the company’s stated pro-women mission. —Paige McGlauflin

Big bucks. Executives earned almost 400 times more than the typical worker in 2021, making it the largest pay gap in history, according to the Economic Policy Institute. —Chloe Berger

American dream. Young people are disillusioned by their prospects. Forty-six percent of Americans believe it’s harder to achieve a good standard of living now than it was for their parents, according to a University of Chicago study. —Trey Williams

Hybrid success. Middle managers should try to get all direct reports into the office on the same day to ease the burden of managing hybrid teams. —Jane Thier

This is the web version of CHRO Daily, a newsletter focusing on helping HR executives navigate the needs of the workplace. Today’s edition was curated by Paolo Confino. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.