Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

The Mental Health at Work Index

Employed adults spend more of their waking hours engaged in work than in any other single activity. In the best of circumstances, work is not only a source of income, but also purpose. As Sigmund Freud said, “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”

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The problem is that work is not working for too many people today.

1. Cost of Mental Health at Work. There is a saying that if you do not have time to do something right the first time, you must have a lot of time. The same is true when it comes to mental health. Places of work can proactively and systematically invest resources in mental health and reap the benefits of a healthy, flourishing workforce and workplace. Alternatively, they can try to ignore mental health and pay a much higher price in the form of elevated mental health problems among workers, increased turnover, lower workforce engagement, toxic organizational culture, and reduced productivity. As many as 15% of working adults are affected by a mental health condition. Left untreated, the global economic burden is estimated at about USD 5 trillion. The good news is that the majority of workers believe that their organizations can make strategic decisions to improve the situation, and they are correct.

2. Need for Scientific Guidance. COVID-19 catapulted mental health to the top of the list of concerns among company leaders. Since 2020, one research study after another has highlighted the pressing mental health needs of workers, including frontline healthcare professionals, educators, hospitality professionals, and others. Organizational leaders generally agree that they can no longer ignore mental health at work, but, until now, they had no way to assess their organization’s programs and services, and no way to know if their efforts were translating into beneficial outcomes for both workers and workplaces. It is not enough to know you have a problem. Effective leaders want scientific guidance and reliable measurement to drive focus and impact.

3. The Mental Health at Work Index. Recognizing that mental health at work should no longer be guesswork, our team at the Columbia University Mental Health + Work Design Lab has worked with non-profit One Mind at Work and corporate ethical standards measurement company Ethisphere to develop and launch The Mental Health at Work IndexTM. Available to the public this week, The Mental Health at Work Index provides the measurement needed to shine a light on what organizations need to do to improve their mental health programs and services. Despite the recent proliferation of mental health offerings, independent data or global standards do not currently exist to provide scientifically supported decision-making for workplace mental health programs. The Index fills this gap and helps organizations worldwide measure and improve what they are doing when it comes to supporting their workers’ mental well-being.

4. The Mental Health at Work Framework. The Mental Health at Work IndexTM measures an organization’s maturity across the continuum of the 3 Ps framework and assesses the extent to which your organization: 1) Protects mental health by eliminating psychosocial hazards and minimizing risks that can negatively affect workers’ mental health and psychological well-being;  2) Promotes mental health by developing the positive aspects of work as well as worker strengths and positive capacities; and 3) Provides access to information, resources, and services, and takes corrective organizational action to address workforce mental health needs regardless of cause. Across the continuum of the 3 Ps, The Mental Health at Work IndexTM provides data for leaders in Ten Categories: Mental Health Strategy, Leadership, Organizational Culture, and Impact. Workforce Involvement and Engagement, Work Design and Environment, Communication, Training Specific to Mental Health, Mental Health Resources and Benefits, Related Employment Practices, and Measuring, Monitoring, and Reporting.

5. Early Findings. Early findings from The Mental Health at Work IndexTM indicate that despite increased attention over the past few years, organizational efforts to support workforce mental health are still relatively underdeveloped. Even committed organizations that are invested in, and actively addressing, workforce mental health are only at a moderate level of maturity on average. Organizations tend to be least mature in the areas of involvement and engagement of workers and leadership support for workforce mental health efforts. Additionally, while employers are providing resources and benefits to support workforce mental health, less emphasis is currently being placed on organizational-level changes that would protect workers’ psychological well-being and prevent problems from occurring in the first place.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The Mental Health at Work IndexTM, which launched this week to the public, enables business leaders to move from awareness to action. The data are clear that good mental health is associated with greater resilience, purpose, and life satisfaction for individuals. Whether big or small, for-profit or not-for-profit, local or global, the same is true for organizations, and the time is now.

Picture of Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University.

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