Your job can be hazardous to your health, according to a new report from the U.S. Surgeon General that highlights how the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed fractures in working Americans’ mental health and well-being.
Released Thursday, the report cites workplace trends like quiet quitting and the Great Resignation as signals of the damage done to Americans by problems like endless hours, unpaid leave, and chronic stress. Remedying the issue will require employers to change the way they operate.
“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,” Surgeon General Vivek 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.”
While the surgeon general’s office has more often promoted solutions to more traditional public health problems such as the opioid epidemic or low rates of Covid vaccination, this effort draws attention to less clinical contributors to ill health, from racism to bullying to powerlessness at work. Recent surveys bolster that argument, the report says:
- 76% of American workers said in 2021 that they suffered from one or more symptoms of a mental health condition such as anxiety or depression, up 17 percentage points from 2019
- 81% of workers will seek future employment where mental health is supported
- 84% of workers said they felt the negative effects of at least one workplace factor, such as poor communication or lack of work-life balance, on their mental health
The surgeon general’s framework for supporting workers’ health starts with calling on companies to protect employees from physical and psychological harms — a goal that encompasses providing basic safety from injuries and harassment as well as ensuring that workers have time off for adequate rest.
Prioritizing work-life balance, autonomy, and opportunities for growth are also cited in the framework as necessary components of workers’ well-being. And the report also says that providing a living wage is critical to mental and physical health.
“A healthy workforce is the foundation for thriving organizations and healthier communities,” Murthy said.