How Small and Mid-Sized Businesses Can Support Employee Mental Health

There are many simple but effective ways small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can embrace mental health and support employee well-being.

Air Date: November 18, 2021

Moderator: Dr. Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General, United States of America

Featured Guests: Margaret Lemmerman, Head of Federal Affairs, Ørsted

From the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic crisis to the social unrest of the last several years, the mental health of the American public has been in a state of crisis. According to Mental Health America, nearly 20% of American adults experienced a form of mental illness, and more than half of those illnesses go untreated.

In response to the growing need for mental health support, businesses have begun to prioritize employees' holistic health and what they can do to support them. While large corporations may have resources to build out robust, comprehensive mental health and wellness programs, there are simple but effective ways small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can embrace mental health and support employee well-being.

During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Business Solves conference, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, interviewed two business leaders about the role of SMEs in addressing mental health and what employers of any size can do to better support their workforce.

Companies Should Be Developing and Enforcing Mental Health Policies

When Andy Katz-Mayfield founded Harry’s in 2013, having a social mission was at the forefront and core of what the company was trying to achieve. Today, Harry’s provides its employees with mental health care, in addition to supporting organizations that are focused on helping the most at-risk communities.

“We provide employees access to well-being programs, a quarterly stipend [for wellness] ... company-wide mental health days,” said Katz-Mayfield. “We encourage folks to take days off to volunteer with a nonprofit of their choice.”

“[We] try to put policies and practices in place internally as well reflect that sort of orientation towards mental health as a key company priority,” he continued.

The mental health policies and programs Harry’s has put in place for its employees can be adapted within any business system, regardless of size and resources.

Leaders Can Create Safe Spaces for Employees to Talk About Mental Health

During his 18-year career in the mental health space, André Blackman, CEO and founder of OnBoard Health, has noticed the rise in the importance of having “safe spaces” in the office. No matter the size of your business, leaders can and should always be supporting their team's mental health needs by creating a space where everyone feels comfortable and empowered to discuss their feelings.

“The past 18 months has completely shifted not only how we work, but how we see ourselves [and] how we value the time that we have here,” said Blackman. “That's really affected us with our small and growing team.”

“[We] really allow people to show up as themselves,” Blackman added. “[We are] able to be very specific about creating platforms for people, not only to talk about the work that they're doing but what else is going on in their community and their lives.”

Employee Mental Health Should Be a Priority for Any Size Business

Surgeon General Murthy said there are a few considerations that every business should keep in mind when assessing its employees’ mental health needs.

“One is that it's always helpful to start with listening and understanding what our employees are thinking and how they're feeling,” said Murthy. “The second is to recognize that culture change is so much more important sometimes in policy change and shifting how we think about talking about mental health in the workplace is so important. This is where leadership, by example, makes such a difference.”

Finally, said Murthy, businesses should be thinking about the kind of policies and structures they put in place to address mental health and overall well-being.

“I think people are looking for more during this time,” he explained. “They're looking for a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their work."