What was the most shared Facebook post in 2019 on workplace mental health in the USA? An announcement by the U.S. Chamber Foundation and the Department of Veterans Affairs that they have launched an effort to prioritize mental health awareness in the workplace. But what actions are actually being taken and why is this cause being led by a department dedicated only to veterans?
Actions to improve workplace mental health awareness and well-being in the U.S.A
As part of the effort by the U.S. Chamber Foundation and other collaborators, organisations are signing a “Pledge to Prioritize Mental Health and Emotional Well being in the Workplace.” This has been signed by approximately 25 multinational companies so far but there seems to be nothing they have to prove or achieve before they get to be listed on the website as ‘doing something for mental health’. It seems that all then need to do is fill in a sign-up form on the Hiring our Heroes website.
This contrasts the UK-based Time to Change Employer Pledge which requires organisations to submit a detailed action plan document that includes specific, measurable steps they will make towards achieving each of the government-endorsed Core Standards from the Stevenson/Farmer Thriving at Work review. Once submitted, organisations receive further support in the form of resource packs, training and masterclasses to help them keep on track and achieve each of their goals.
Recently, Mental Health America launched a Bell Seal for Workplace Mental Health awareness where employers can work towards achieving Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze levels in five categories: workplace culture, health insurance & benefits, employee perks, legal & ethical compliance, and leadership & community engagement. The process involves the assessment of an application form, but no on-going support.
The CDC’s National Healthy Worksite Programme provides support for organisations wishing to improve the health of their workforce and it encourages a data-led, strategic approach. However, there is no specific mention of mental health and example interventions relate to reduction in smoking, healthy diets and workplace layout.
The American Psychological Association’s Healthy Workplace Honours programme has more of a mental health focus by recognizing workplaces who make effective mental health interventions in 5 areas: employee involvement, health and safety, employee growth and development, work-life balance and employee recognition. However, it does not provide resources to help employers achieve these things.
Workplace Mental health Awareness in the USA
The U.S.A seems short of nationwide or even state-wide workplace mental health programmes and resources even though 61% of Americans cite work as a significant cause of stress (American Psychological Association, 2017) and 18.3% of adult Americans have reported a mental health disorder (CDC, 2016). Mental Health America’s annual 2019 survey of over 9800 employees showed a fairly depressing set of statistics including that 80% of respondents strongly agreed that their workplace made them feel less confident, 58% of people do not feel motivated at work, and 54% of people would not feel confident recommending their workplace to others.
Workplace benefits in the U.S compared to other high income countries
The USA is the only western nation to have no mandatory paid vacation (holiday) leave for workers. Although most workers are given paid vacation (usually around 2 weeks each year), American workers forfeited nearly 50 percent of their paid vacation in 2017. And, nearly 10 percent take no vacation days at all. According to a study by Glassdoor, the fear of falling behind is the number one reason people aren’t using their vacation time (Forbes, 2018). This contrasts to most European countries who have statutory paid vacation of 4 weeks. The French have it best with 6 weeks of paid vacation annually.
The USA doesn’t reach the top 10, or even the top 20 of OECD countries in the OECD’s Work-Life Balance index, yet work-life balance is the second most important factor (after income) for choosing a job worldwide (Statista, 2014).
Furthermore, the USA is the only OECD country without a national paid parental leave policy, although three states do provide leave payments. At the federal level, the available (unpaid) parental leave is only 12 weeks which is a major factor driving women not to return to work after having a child (OECD, 2019).
In terms of working hours, 11.1% of employees work “very long hours” in the USA, compared to 0.4% in the Netherlands and 4% in Canada. The USA also ranks below all of Western Europe and Canada in the hours that employers work each week: the average American works 36 hours a week compared to 28 hours in Germany and 34 hours in the UK.
Summary: mental health awareness in USA workplaces
It seems that American workers have it quite tough when compared to workers in other countries that have similar income levels. Although employee health and wellness have been recognized for some time as having a significant importance, the USA has a long way to go before policy-makers and organizational leaders can prove that they are truly making an effort to improve emotional wellbeing and mental health in the workplace.
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- OECD (2019) Better Life Index http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/work-life-balance/
- OECD (2009), “Graph 2.17 – Paid annual leave and paid public holidays in the OECD: Annual leave and paid public holidays, days per year”, in Society at a Glance 2009: OECD Social Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/soc_glance-2009-graph2_17-en.
- Statista (2014) – https://www.statista.com/statistics/224394/reasons-for-choosing-employment-positions/
- Brain Happy Blog (2019) Report on Workplace Mental Health: What does the data say? https://brainhappy.co.uk/report-on-workplace-mental-health-and-wellbeing-what-does-the-data-say/
- Centre for Disease Control (2018) Mental Health in the Workplace – download report: https://www.cdc.gov/workplacehealthpromotion/tools-resources/workplace-health/mental-health/index.html
- American Psychological Association (2017) The State of Our Nation –https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2017/state-nation.pd
- U.S. Chamber Foundation (2019) “U.S. Chamber Foundation, Department of Veterans Affairs Launch Effort to Prioritize Mental Health in the Workplace” https://www.uschamberfoundation.org/blog/post/us-chamber-foundation-department-veterans-affairs-launch-effort-prioritize-mental-health
- Forbes (2018) “Shocking workplace statistics you need to know” – https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidsturt/2018/03/08/10-shocking-workplace-stats-you-need-to-know/#728b7c3af3af