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Insights From the Workplace Mental Health Action Summit: Connecting in a Divided World

Key takeaways and actionable strategies from HAA’s third annual mental health summit.

Insights From the Workplace Mental Health Action Summit: Connecting in a Divided World
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At the Health Action Alliance Workplace Mental Health Action Summit on May 2, 2024, industry leaders converged to explore innovative solutions for fostering workplace connection and combating loneliness. Did you miss the summit? Here's a recap to catch you up on all the highlights. And for those who attended, this cheat sheet provides a reference to revisit key insights and takeaways. You can watch the full recording below.

Keynote  Snapshot: Citizenship, Community and Connection at Work

During the keynote conversation, Bob Safian, host of “Masters of Scale: Rapid Response,” spoke with Baratunde Thurston, host of PBS’s “America Outdoors” and the podcast “How To Citizen,” about strategies for connecting in a divided world. 

Top Takeaways

  • Connection is a crucial part of understanding one another. When we connect on a personal level, it’s easier to empathize with someone who may not have the same views as you. 
  • “We are actively redefining citizenship.” Thurston advocates for reimagining citizenship as a verb, emphasizing action and connection to move forward together.

Take-Home Tactics

  • Center diversity and inclusion in your mental health strategy to ensure all voices are heard and valued in decision-making. 
  • Offer training and support programs to help employees develop cultural awareness, empathy and communication skills for navigating diverse environments. 
  • Consider opportunities to promote civic engagement as a healthy avenue to foster belonging and community connection. Research supports a close link between civic participation and health.

Panel Snapshot: Building a Culture of Belonging During Uncertain Times

Business leaders delved into the importance of belonging, inclusivity and resilience in the workplace amid today’s challenges. 


  • Kim Dabbs, Author of You Belong Here and Global VP of ESG + Social Innovation, Steelcase 
  • Elisha Engelen, Vice President of Health Transformation, Aon
  • Dr. Kathy Pike, CEO, OneMind (moderator)

Top Takeaways

  • Belonging is intricately linked to identity, and understanding individual identities is key to building belonging in the workplace.
  • Workplace challenges, especially during divisive moments, can amplify feelings of loneliness; leaders need to create environments where employees feel safe discussing their mental health concerns, and they need to be trained to recognize signs of loneliness so they can ask employees the right questions and encourage them to talk about what's going on.
  • Leaders co-create culture with their team. It’s essential that all parties are listened to in a safe environment. 
  • Managers and leaders can help employees overcome hesitations in seeking mental health support by modeling vulnerability and providing resources for open dialogue.

Take-Home Tactics

  • Foster open dialogue by providing regular opportunities for employees to share their thoughts and concerns. This helps reinforce psychological safety within the organization.
  • Encourage leaders to model vulnerability by openly discussing their own challenges and experiences, creating a culture that values authenticity.
  • Train leaders on how to recognize signs of burnout and loneliness so they can provide support to employees who may need it. 
  • "Be more inclusive in your language,” Engelen said. Using language that isn’t inclusive “creates a barrier where people don't feel you're going to relate to their scenario and it shuts them down versus getting them to speak up."

Fireside Chat Snapshot: Creating Community and Hope to Break the Cycle of Loneliness and Substance Use Disorders

Kirsten Seckler, Chief Marketing & Communications Officer at Shatterproof, and Philip Rutherford, the Strategy Lead for Substance Use at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing and Start with Hope, shared insights and strategies aimed at reducing stigma and supporting substance use recovery in the workplace and beyond.

Top Takeaways

  • Creating a recovery-ready workplace involves aligning with messages of hope and support, implementing policies that prioritize employee well-being and providing resources for education and help.
  • Leadership buy-in and sustained commitment are essential for the success and longevity of workplace initiatives aimed at breaking the cycle of loneliness and substance use disorders.

Take-Home Tactics

  • Normalize conversations around mental health and substance use disorders in the workplace and reduce stigma through education and awareness initiatives.
  • Leaders who are comfortable talking about their own experiences in recovery can help combat stigma and encourage conversations about substance use disorders.
  • Partner with external organizations and resources specializing in mental health and substance use recovery to provide comprehensive support for employees, including referrals to treatment programs and ongoing assistance.

Panel Snapshot: Cultivating Peer-to-Peer Support Communities to Combat Isolation

Peer-to-peer leaders discussed the importance of employee resource groups in combating loneliness in the workplace. 


  • Dr. Elaine Boucher, Senior Director, Behavioral Science, Twill (moderator)
  • Natalie Chwalk, Lead Program Manager, Early Talent and Co-chair Mental Health Affinity GroupMongoDB
  • Jon McLeod, ESPN Communications and Co-Founder/Co-Chair of ESPN T.R.U.S.T. ESPN
  • Earl Murphy, Enterprise Account Executive and President of Soberforce, Salesforce 

Top Takeaways

  • Peer-to-peer support communities play a vital role in combating isolation at work by providing safe spaces for employees to connect and share experiences, contributing to mental well-being and organizational resilience.
  • Starting employee-led groups for mental health, loneliness and substance use recovery encourages open dialogue, breaks down stigma and promotes a culture of inclusivity and support.

Take-Home Tactics

  • Ensure leadership support and endorsement of peer support initiatives, demonstrating organizational commitment to employee mental health.
  • Allocate resources and train group leaders to facilitate meaningful discussions, offer support and connect employees with relevant resources.
  • Regularly promote participation in peer support communities, emphasizing the benefits of connection, empathy and shared experiences in overcoming isolation and promoting well-being.
  • Leverage technology to enhance access to virtual support groups, forums and resources for those working remotely or in hybrid environments.

Audience Q&As

Q: How do you present an employee-led support group without creating more work for people who already feel like they're running out of fuel? What are some small steps we can take to create that space?

A: Working with managers to ensure there is dedicated time during the workday and approving a dedicated budget for ERG goals are important steps to ensure the work is not an additional burden. Consider offering a bonus or other additional compensation to employees who lead an ERG. Check out HAA's Guide to Building a Mental Health ERG

Q: What are Baratunde's four pillars of How to Citizen?

A: Baratunde's Four Pillars of How to Citizen are:

  1. To Participate. Show up for each other and publicly take part in ways that include and go beyond voting.
  2. To Invest in Relationships. Deepen relationships with ourselves, our community and our planet, and experience how we are all interconnected.
  3. To Understand Power. Be fluent in power and the various ways we can use it for our collective benefit.
  4. To Value the Collective. Work toward outcomes that benefit the many, not just the few.

Q: When discussing inclusive language, Elisha offered such great advice about not assuming that an employee’s paid time off is a fun break. There are so many challenges that people are going through now, and sometimes, just removing themselves from the normal set of responsibilities is needed to address other things. I would love some tips on how to speak to breaks they've taken.

A: Elisha recommends leading with an open-ended question such as "Welcome back. How was your time away? Did you do something fun or productive?"

Resource Roundup

  • Health Action Alliance | Creating a Recovery-Ready Workplace: A step-by-step guide to tackle stigma and support workers on their journey to recovery. 
  • Health Action Alliance | Belonging in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers: How to build a business case, develop a strategy and execute a plan for building belonging and decreasing polarization in the workplace, all while improving employees' mental health and boosting the bottom line.
  • Health Action Alliance | Mental Health Action Day Employer Planning Guide: How to create a company action plan for the May 16, 2024 event and join thousands of partners in a global mental health movement. 
  • Kim Dabbs | You Belong Here: Panelist Kim Dabbs’ debut book is available now. 
  • Start With Hope: A national campaign by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, Shatterproof and the Ad Council, supporting people on their journey to well-being and recovery. Also available in Spanish

Mark Your Calendars

Messages From Our Partners

A Message from One Mind at Work

Is your workplace mental health program working? Take the Mental Health at Work Index! Benchmark your program and use personalized reports to develop impactful services.

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A Message from Start With Hope

Substance use recovery starts with hope. Visit to learn more about harm reduction practices and culturally responsive resources to support recovery in your workplace.

learn more

A Message from Twill

Twill provides accelerated access to mental health and well-being care that focuses on whole person support and delivers lasting behavior change.

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