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Best-Practice Interventions to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental illness remains one of the leading causes of sickness absence and long-term work incapacity. And that was before the pandemic. Now employers find themselves on the frontlines of the mental health crisis. What best-practice interventions can they deploy to improve mental health in the workplace?

Psychosocial risks at the heart of mental health challenges in the workplace

The first step towards developing mentally healthy workplaces is removing psychosocial risks. What are psychosocial risks?

They are the hazards likeliest to affect your workers’ psychological response to work and workplace conditions. The full list includes:

  • Job design. Demands of the job, control in the work environment, resources provided, the level of work engagement, the characteristics of the job, and potential exposure to trauma.
  • Team/group factors. Support from colleagues and managers, the quality of interpersonal relationships, effective leadership, and the availability of manager training.
  • Organizational factors. Changes to the organization, support from the organization, recognizing and rewarding work, how justice is perceived in an organization, a psychosocial safety climate, positive organizational climate, and a safe physical environment.
  • Home/work conflict. The degree to which conflicting demands from home, including significant life events, interfere with work.
  • Individual biopsychosocial factors. Genetics, personality, early life events, cognitive and behavioral patterns, mental health history, lifestyle factors and coping style.

Workplaces that have mitigated or controlled these risk factors begin to take on the attributes of mentally healthy places of work.

The World Health Organization proposes best-practice interventions to improve mental health in the workplace

But what should the initiatives to develop such workplaces look like? That’s where expert guidance comes in.

The World Health Organization, for its part, recently issued a long list of expert guidelines on mental health at work.

The biggest finding therein was that job content/task design and job/task rotation could have positive effects on mental health symptoms (stress/burnout). How so?

Often the data are inconclusive. But in the following instances, experts could make recommendations.

  • Flex-working. Flextime, or flexible working arrangements, yielded improvements to mental health symptoms (e.g., psychological health). Additional evidence also supports the view that offering control in flexible working arrangements (such as self-scheduling) may have favorable impacts on health.
  • Tele-working. Teleworking yielded small positive effects on mental health symptoms. Teleworking was inversely related to absenteeism in a major European study (Kröll).
  • Participatory organizational interventions targeting job design. Here, a controlled trial reported that work unit-level interventions with worker participation and dialogue, job redesign, and organizational learning yielded a significant decrease in mental health symptoms.
  • Performance feedback/reward. Here, one study found that a multicomponent intervention containing performance bonus, job promotion opportunities, and mentoring support generated higher retention rates compared to a matched wait list control group (i.e., given the intervention after 12 months) at 12- and 36-month follow-up.

Of course, the WHO guidelines say more than that. They also lay out the specific aspects of job content/task design and job/task rotation demonstrated to affect mental health symptoms. To find those out as well as learn how digital technology can help you put proposed best practice interventions into action, download our Guide to Establishing Best-Practice Interventions to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace.

Guide to Establishing Best-Practice Interventions to Improve Mental Health in the Workplace