Model Successful Programs
One of the best ways to get started with a workplace mental health initiative is to learn about what other employers have done, especially those of a similar size and/or nature. The Center for Workplace Mental Health offers a library of case studies, which profile a wide range of organizations of all sizes. Just a few examples include EY, HealthPartners, RK and Prudential Financial.
To add to this growing body of knowledge, in 2018 EARN conducted qualitative interviews with representatives from several employers to learn about their mental health initiatives. Below are summaries of insight gleaned from these interviews, which were conducted as part of a larger research project focused on workplace mental health initiatives, including a literature review, as well as descriptions of other companies’ efforts.
- Bike and Roll DC
- Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
- Duke University
- Johnson & Johnson
- Mayo Clinic/Dan Abraham Health Living Center
A small, independent business, Bike and Roll DC offers professionally guided bike and Segway sightseeing tours in the nation’s capital, in addition to bike rentals. Run jointly by a husband and wife and one of their sisters, the business’s family nature is the force behind its implementation of a robust mental health initiative for a small business.
Following the suicide of the couple’s teenage son, the family decided to use the tragedy to educate about and decrease stigma surrounding mental health conditions, both externally, through a foundation, and internally, through a wellness program for employees. The goal is to create an open environment, one in which employees feel comfortable talking about and tending to their mental health needs. This begins during onboarding, a frequent process given the seasonal nature of the business; at peak times of the year, the organization’s staff grows to as many as 100 people. Also, “mental health days” are granted without question.
On Wednesdays, employees wear special orange shirts to raise awareness of the Orange Wednesday Foundation, which supports families with children with mental health conditions. The shirts are meant to serve as a regular reminder about the company’s open environment. The strategy is to be as flexible as possible, says co-owner Janna Marks. “You have to run a business, but first and foremost, let’s make sure people are okay.” Return to top of page.
Leadership at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is acutely aware of the stress that working at the facility can place on employees, who care for and interact with children experiencing significant illness and trauma and their families on a daily basis. As a result, the hospital has committed to ensuring the compassion it provides its patients is extended to its staff as well, with a special emphasis on their mental health needs.
This involves proactively creating opportunities for employees to talk about their emotions. As part of this, the hospital developed a mobile cart, dubbed “Code Lavender,” which includes a variety of stress reduction resources, such as scented lavender, art supplies, books, water, and meditation and massage guides. For example, on a day when employees may be facing a particularly intense situation, a department might declare “Code Lavender at 2:00 p.m.” in order to bring employees together for reflection, sharing and relaxation.
In addition, the hospital participates in Schwartz Rounds, an industry program that provides a structured forum for staff, both clinical and non-clinical, to discuss the emotional challenges of working in a hospital environment. To encourage participation in both of these initiatives, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital uses posters, newsletters and word of mouth. Return to top of page.
In recent years, Durham, North Carolina-based Duke University decided that, despite having significant resources in place to assist employees with mental health concerns, they were not maximized due to isolation from other internal wellness initiatives. To help, the university created the “Healthy Duke” initiative.
This initiative integrates five core areas to communicate a commitment to wellness among not only faculty and staff but also students. These include: 1) food and nutrition; 2) mental and emotional wellbeing; 3) physical activity and movement; 4) fulfillment and purpose; and 5) environment and culture. Developed under the leadership of Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Bryan Sexton, the program seeks to help all at Duke realize their full potential and live healthier lives, both physically and mentally.
One key element behind Duke’s decision to launch Healthy Duke was support from top leadership; the university’s current chancellor came from the University of California, Los Angeles, which was the first university to implement a “healthy campus” initiative. Another important factor was that, like many large educational institutions, Duke has many different “subcultures,” and a multi-tiered campaign allows for differentiation among them. As the program evolves, the university aims to establish different work groups, each with an embedded communicator whose job will be to liaise with other groups to ensure an integrated and effective roll out. Return to top of page.
Chemical and pharmaceutical manufacturer DuPont has a long and rich history of promoting employee wellness and a mental health-friendly work culture. In fact, it is regarded as having one of the first corporate support programs, an early version of an employee assistance program (EAP). Reflecting this history, DuPont has a number of internal initiatives focused on mental health and employee wellbeing, with strong support from top leadership.
Given the global nature of the company, these initiatives take different forms in different locations to account for cultural differences in how mental health is talked about and perceived around the world. The company feels this differentiation has been critical to success. As one example, it asks offices worldwide to observe the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (December 3), but each has latitude in how to do so.
Perhaps most notably, DuPont’s global EAP team created and implemented an internal anti-stigma campaign, called “ICU” (“I See You”), the centerpiece of which is an animated video about how to recognize signs of emotional distress in colleagues and encourage them to seek help. Based on its success, DuPont decided to make the ICU Program available to all employers, free of charge, through a partnership with the Center for Workplace Mental Health. Return to top of page.
In 2016, EY launched its “r u ok?” initiative, an education and awareness campaign to help reduce stigma around mental illness and substance abuse disorders. The idea for the initiative came out of the firm’s participation in the CEO Summit on Mental Health in the Workplace, held in October 2015. Led by EY’s employee assistance program (EAP), “r u ok?” was designed to encourage employees to check in with each other and provide support to colleagues who might be struggling with mental health issues. It combined e-learning, presentations, peer connections, and employee champions to help employees learn how to start a conversation about mental health and share information about available resources.
With the support of EY’s disability-focused employee resource group (ERG), AccessAbilities, the “r u ok?” initiative has evolved into the “We Care” mental health awareness campaign. We Care, which involves more than 1,300 participants across 26 offices, uses personal stories, including those shared by company leadership, to help build awareness of mental health issues and reduce stigma. To facilitate the sharing of stories, EY created a system that allows employees to anonymously submit information about their experiences with mental health issues. As an additional effort to maintain employee privacy, any identifying details are removed before the stories are shared. Research has found storytelling to be a powerful tool for reducing stigma and encouraging individuals to seek help for mental health issues. Analysis of the impact of the We Care campaign indicates this has proven true at EY, as there has been a 48 percent increase in mental health-related calls to the firm’s EAP since the start of the campaign. Return to top of page.
Pharmaceutical company Janssen, whose parent company is Johnson and Johnson, has established a company-wide vision that mental illness be “well understood and treated early and mostly prevented by 2030.” This vision aligns with United Nations development goals and reflects the company’s goal to be a leader in not only mental health prevention and treatment, but also increasing awareness and eradicating stigma. Reflecting this, through Janssen Research & Development, LLC, in 2017 the company launched the One Mind at Work initiative, a global coalition of leaders committed to transforming approaches to mental health and addiction with the goal of delivering better mental health, wellness, and economic outcomes globally.
Janssen also takes steps to address mental health internally. For example, the company is known to be the first to establish an employee resource group (ERG) specifically for employees who have or care for someone with a mental health condition. This ERG spearheads a number of events, including an observation of World Mental Health Day (October 10) at more than 90 facilities in 32 countries. During these events, senior executives spoke on video about how mental health should be treated in the same way as physical health. In many places, employee assistance program (EAP) representatives were also on hand to talk about new related aspects in the company’s health care plan offerings and efforts to bridge the gap between physical and mental health benefits—gaps identified as problematic during an EAP audit.
In addition, the company is developing a mental health training for employees, based on the fact that the underlying issue in many performance problems is stress and other mental health concerns. This training will help the company’s supervisors understand and identify when this may be the case. Return to top of page.
Johnson & Johnson believes that “good health is the foundation of vibrant lives, thriving communities, and forward progress” and that physical, emotional, and mental health are intrinsically linked.
Reflecting this, the company strives to foster a work culture that support an integrated approach to health centered on three pillars – Healthy Eating, Healthy Movement, and Healthy Mind. As part of this, Johnson & Johnson’s Healthy Mind policy includes an employee assistance program (EAP) for employees and their families and awareness training for managers and employees about available mental health resources and the importance of reducing the stigma often associated with mental health conditions.
The “Mental Health Diplomats” Employee Resource Group (ERG) is another way Johnson & Johnson works to destigmatize mental health issues and support its employees with mental health conditions and their families. The ERG was established in 2017 by the company’s Vice President of Internal Affairs, Craig Kramer, whose daughter had attempted suicide a few years prior, and Director of Change Management and Communications Geralyn Giorgio. It quickly became the fastest growing ERG at the company, reaching 1,000 members in 32 countries and providing Mental Health First Aid training to more than 350 employees in its first year. The ERG has since been rebranded as the “Alliance for Diverse Abilities,” to reflect the company’s support for employees with all types of disabilities.
Johnson & Johnson also understands that buy-in from leadership is a critical component of sustaining the company’s mental health efforts; its CEO, senior executives, and managers have all committed to raising awareness and proactively addressing workplace mental health. Every October, on World Mental Health Day, the company hosts events at sites around the globe. The company also co-founded several mental health initiatives, including the Global Coalition on Youth Mental Health, citiesRISE, and One Mind at Work.
Global pharmaceutical company Lundbeck engages in the research, development and sale of drugs for psychiatric and neurological disorders, primarily depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. With offices in more than 50 countries, it employs about 5,000 people. According to company representatives, educating about and decreasing stigma associated with mental health are embedded in Lundbeck’s seven core corporate beliefs and projected externally as well as internally.
Reflecting this, medications for mental health conditions are available to employees or their dependents at no cost when prescribed by a physician. Further, all benefits information received leading up to open enrollment in the company’s health care plan prominently feature mental health messaging. The goal is to make mental health “front and center, right next to vision.”
To assist in fostering a mental health-friendly work culture, Lundbeck also developed a campaign called “Right Direction,” which the company made available to all employers, free of charge, through a partnership with the Center for Workplace Mental Health. This campaign educates that depression is a serious condition that impacts all aspects of a person’s life, including work, and provides employers with turnkey, customizable resources and materials to assist in addressing it in the workplace setting. Return to top of page.
In 2014, Merck, a global health care company headquartered in Kenilworth, NJ with more than 69,000 employees worldwide, implemented an internal disability awareness campaign, titled “I Am Merck, Count Me In.” The purpose of the effort was to encourage more openness about disability across the company—a federal contractor subject to Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act—and educate employees about why they were invited to self-identify as having a disability and the benefits of doing so if appropriate.
The company also used this opportunity to educate about “hidden disabilities,” among them mental health conditions, which company representatives said were increasingly “cropping up” as an issue of concern for employees. Through this campaign, Merck discerned that employees indicated a reluctance to self-identify or disclose having a mental health condition for fear of stigma. To counter this, the company decided to implement a number of internal initiatives focused on mental health.
To start, internal divisions collaborated to create a series of events rolled out via a global webcast entitled “Reducing the Stigma of Mental Health,” which was held on World Mental Health Day in 2018. Employee engagement following the event surpassed expectations, with many asking what more could be done. This prompted the creation of Merck’s Taskforce on Mental Health Awareness and the development of the Mind Well program. Through the program, employee volunteers called “Mind Well Champions” offer support to colleagues around emotional wellbeing and provide mental health information and resources. In conjunction with the Champions, Merck offers a variety of programs and hosts events to help bring awareness to the prevalence of mental health conditions, highlight available resources, and reduce stigma. Additional mental health support is provided through Merck’s “Resources for Living” employee assistance program (EAP). Merck has also joined the One Mind at Work initiative, a global coalition of leaders committed to transforming approaches to mental health and addiction with the goal of delivering better mental health, wellness, and economic outcomes globally. Return to top of page.
The Mayo Clinic’s Dan Abraham Health Living Center is named for a business leader and philanthropist who was a patient at the Mayo Clinic and founded the center to express appreciation for the care provided him. Today, the center’s mission is to improve the health, both physical and mental, of Mayo Clinic employees, retirees, volunteers and their spouses.
A few years ago the center established an Employee Wellbeing Team and rolled out four components to assist in promoting wellness: 1) a wellbeing website available to all employees; 2) “well-champions,” who serve as ambassadors to promoting a healthy lifestyle and work-life balance; 3) workforce learning, encompassing courses on mental health topics; and 4) enterprise challenges, which are designed to keep employees engaged, mindful and present. To ensure these components are available to teleworking Mayo Clinic employees, the center is also exploring virtual wellness coaching and other means of programming delivery.
The Dan Abraham Health Living Center is not revenue driven; employees do pay a fee to join, but the center covers 50 percent of the cost. A study of regular members (those who use the center three times a week or more) indicated a decrease in health care costs of about $6,000 per individual. This return on investment assists in highlighting the center’s value and soliciting donations to maintain and expand its services. Return to top of page.
In January of 2020, Starbucks announced its commitment to supporting employees’ mental health through a variety of company-wide initiatives. Speaking to a gathering of 12,000 store leaders, Chief Partner Officer Lucy Helm stated, “Together, we’re on a mission to take a stand, help break the stigma, and get even more partners and their family the support they need.” Since then, nearly 5,000 employees have contributed to the company’s Mental Health Matters online forum to share their ideas about mental health and wellbeing. In addition, more than 200,000 employee have participated in Third Place Development Series training, which addresses issues like loneliness, vulnerability, courage, and the power of small acts and conversation to strengthen human connection.
As part of this larger effort, Starbucks also updated its employee assistance program (EAP) based on feedback from employees and mental health experts and added the meditation and mindfulness mobile application Headspace to its suite of benefits. Employees can sign up for a free subscription to access guided meditations, articles, and videos to improve their mental health. In the spring of 2020, Starbucks expanded its mental health care benefits to provide all employees and their eligible family members with 20 free sessions per year with a mental halth professional through Lyra Health.
In addition, Starbucks has developed a Mental Health Fundamentals Training program in partnership with the National Council for Behavioral Health. Inspired by Mental Health First Aid, this training is available to assistant store managers, store managers, and non-retail partners to help them recognize and respond to signs of mental health or substance use issues and provide resources to those who might need assistance. Starbucks is also partnering with nonprofit organizations working to help remove the stigma around mental health, including the Born This Way Foundation. Return to top of page.