The surgeon general's recent mental health warning is something business leaders and managers shouldn't ignore, according to a leading diversity consultant
- Last week, the surgeon general published a report on the "devastating" state of youth mental health.
- The report is a reminder that many American workers are struggling too and that CEOs can help.
- That's according to Disability:In CEO Jill Houghton who spoke at Insider's "Transforming Business" event, presented by Alight, on December 9, 2021.
In a 53-page report published last week, the US surgeon general general issued a notice on the "devastating" state of mental health, saying it would be a "tragedy" to ignore it. While the surgeon general's words focused on people under the age of 24, Americans of all ages are struggling with mental health issues.
According to Jill Houghton, the CEO of the nonprofit and diversity consultancy Disability:In, the surgeon general's report underscores the need for business leaders to address the precarious state of their workers' mental health.
"We have a real opportunity and responsibility in business to acknowledge that we are all touched by mental health," Houghton told Insider. "Mental health is a disability issue, and we need to prioritize it."
One out of five Americans struggle with their mental health, per the CDC. But despite the prevalence of mental health issues in America, many CEOs refrained from speaking up about it until the pandemic gave the issue more prominence. Top companies, from Starbucks to PwC, expanded their mental health benefits to include such services as free counseling sessions and more paid time off. But Houghton argues there's still work to be done.
"Business has an opportunity to be more inclusive, and to really raise that conversation and create that culture where people can bring their whole authentic selves to the workplace," Houghton said during a recent Insider panel event.
Seizing the moment
Houghton and her team at Disability:In are encouraging leaders to sign public commitments to focus on hiring, retaining, and promoting people with disabilities. They're also working with CEOs, chief diversity officers, and chief human-resource officers behind the scenes by analyzing their policies through the Global Equality Index, which gives leaders scores on how inclusive they are.
Dorothy Garcia, senior manager of Disability:In's Global Equality Index, said there's been a positive trend over the last two years. She also said the pandemic, the 2020 reckoning around race and diversity, and 2021's Great Resignation have driven several executives to seek out her work.
"The Great Resignation is really driving employers to take a look at this new talent pool of disabled employees and say, 'What can we do to attract more of this pool? What can we do to make ourselves a more inclusive company?'" Garcia said.
In addition to recognizing the importance of retaining talent, CEOs are beginning to understand the business case for advancing disability rights, per Bridgette Anderson, a talent acquisition senior manager at Disability:In's consultancy.
According to 2018 research by Accenture and Disability:In, companies with highly inclusive disability policies (like remote and flexible work options and recruiting plans to hire people with disabilities) achieved 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins over a four-year period than their peers.
"CEOs and leadership recognize diversity as a benefit, the benefit being diversity of thought, the diversity of experience, the diversity of knowledge," Anderson said. "The conversation has completely shifted."
But the surgeon general's warning on youth mental health is a sign that more work needs to be done, especially for the workers of tomorrow, according to Houghton. She suggests CEOs add more mental health benefits, prioritize flexible and remote work, and speak on the topic to reduce stigma.