Over the last two years, I have seen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on my friends, my family and my organization. And the statistics show that I am not alone. The American Psychological Association 2022 Stress in AmericaTM survey found that close to two-thirds of adults (63%) said the COVID-19 pandemic had forever changed their life. Many reported worse mental health, lower physical activity, disturbed sleep, and increased reliance on unhealthy habits. This was a problem I could not ignore – for my family or the organization I lead.
Local leaders across the country have been on the frontlines of this pandemic for two years. In private conversations, they shared the toll that the pandemic has taken and the challenge of ‘no days off’ as their community struggled to respond and rebuild. The data was clear. Our country was experiencing a mental health crisis inside the health crisis.
In 2021, just after the coronavirus vaccine became available, I joined efforts with six other CEOs to raise awareness about the safety of the vaccine and promote its equitable distribution to the Black community. As we worked together on the equitable access of the vaccine, we soon agreed that the mental health crisis gripping our organizations and so much of the country was as critical as the ongoing public health crisis. That inspired us as a group to launch the Mental Health in the Workplace initiative.
Our organizations (American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association, ICMA and YMCA) represent several sectors of American society whose work impacts people’s daily lives – mayors, city and county managers, public health officials, psychologists, administrators, and fitness and wellness professionals. The workplace is often the most structured and controlled environment in people’s lives, and often their primary means of social and emotional support.
As leaders, we can transform the workplace culture by prioritizing employee mental health. We need to normalize conversations about mental health and cultivate supportive environments for our employees’ physical and psychological health.
I invite all NLC members to participate and join a growing list of cities committing to mental health excellence in the workplace.
You or designated staff can go to Striving for Mental Health Excellence in the Workplace. Click on the “show your commitment” button and complete the form. The person who completes the form will receive an email confirmation and request for city or town logo. We will feature your logo on the page of cities and organizations making a commitment.
Municipalities are often some of the largest employers in their community. And NLC is ready to support your efforts to cultivate a healthy work environment.
Here are five actionable commitments that municipal leaders in their role as employers can take to foster a positive work environment. These are workplace practices and policies that psychological research in work settings supports as essential to sustaining employee mental health.
- Train managers to support employees’ mental health
- Increase employees’ options for where, when, and how they work
- Reexamine organizational health insurance policies with a focus on mental health
- Listen to what your employees need and use their feedback to improve and evolve the workplace culture
- Take a critical look at organizational policies through a lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion
These recommendations are intended to be action steps for consideration and determine which are doable and make sense for your municipality. Whether your city or town is already implementing just a couple of recommendations or considering adding one, you can act now and demonstrate your dedication to mental health excellence in the workplace.