Jan 21, 2021 | by Rhea Newman

Evidence-based approaches to workplace mental health

Earlier this year, Wellcome Trust commissioned 10 global research teams to look at the evidence behind promising interventions. These were shortlisted in collaboration with external experts, including the Centre. These interventions were focussed on supporting anxiety and depression in the workplace, with a particular focus on younger workers.

In partnership with the World Economic Forum, Wellcome are now beginning to share the findings from this Commission with business leaders. Wellcome’s Rhea Newman summarises the first of these dialogues.

>> Read the second blog post in this series 

More interventions, but are they effective, or cost-effective?

In recent years we’ve seen more and more businesses seeking ways to support the mental health of their employees. Prioritising mental health and wellbeing is beneficial not only for individual employees, but also organisations and the global cost of mental-ill health through lost productivity, absences and staff turnover has been estimated to be around $2.5 trillion annually.

In response to this need, we have seen a growing number of companies experimenting with a range of new mental health initiatives from mental health first aid and peer support networks to mindfulness apps and yoga. Prior to Covid-19, the US corporate wellness market alone was predicted to hit $11.3 billion by 2021.

While these initiatives are very well-intentioned, the truth is that we have very limited understanding about whether they make any difference to mental health. We do not know which interventions are better or more cost-effective or whether some interventions fail to help people at all or at worst, may even cause harm. With Covid-19 significantly changing where and how we work, it has never been more important to understand what interventions work for whom, and in what context.

What gaps is the research addressing?

The approaches included in this first commission range from flexible working to mindfulness, Group Psychological First Aid to breaking up sitting with light activity. The commission forms part of Wellcome’s five-year, £200 million commitment to finding the next generation of treatments and approaches for anxiety and depression in young people.

In partnership with the World Economic Forum, Wellcome are now beginning to share the findings from this Commission with business leaders for the first time and on 9 December, WEF members heard the evidence behind three diverse approaches to supporting mental health in the workplace.

Key findings

  • Benefits of reducing sitting

Aaron Kandola from University College London, Department of Psychiatry shared the evidence behind how breaking up excessive sitting with light activity can have a positive impact on anxiety and depression. With the average employed adult now sitting for over 9 hours per day, evidence shows this can have significant consequences for both physical and mental health. Interventions to overcome excessive sitting include using dynamic workstations, encouraging individual behavioural changes and introducing wider organisational policy changes (such as standing meetings and movement breaks).

  • Workforce involvement and peer support networks in low and middle income countries

Dr Sandesh Samudre from the Centre for Mental Health Law and Policy, Indian Law Society, shared the emerging evidence for why involving the workforce and creating peer support networks may be promising approaches to improving mental health in low-and-middle-income countries.

Through a focused literature review and engagement with stakeholders, they found that involving the workforce in shaping an organisation’s approach to workplace mental health and creating peer support networks may have beneficial impacts for workforces in low-and-middle-income countries.

The research found that there are a number of barriers which may impact on how effective these approaches are in practice, including lack of trust and stigma and a focus on productivity in organisations. There are also some important gaps in the evidence base and further research is needed to understand more about the effectiveness of these approaches and how they may apply in the informal sector.

  • Impact of job autonomy on anxiety and depression

Professor Ivan Robertson, Director at Robertson Cooper, shared the evidence on why improving job autonomy may improve the mental health of younger workers. Evidence from the literature shows that improvements in job autonomy can have a positive impact on anxiety and depression. While data suggests autonomy is less troubling for younger workers (under 25), it is still the biggest workplace pressure.

One intervention business leaders can use to improve job autonomy is job crafting where employees are given greater freedom to craft how their role is carried out and this can include task crafting, relationship crafting and cognitive crafting.

Covid-19, intervention quality, and cultural context

Reflections from business leaders after the presentations highlighted a number of key themes.

  • Covid-19 has elevated the issue of workplace mental health for many businesses with many of them looking for ways that they can support their employees’ mental health, especially from afar with many employees now working remotely
  • There are a lot of companies offering workplace mental health interventions and it can be hard to know which (if any) are underpinned by robust evidence and are likely to have the most positive impact.
  • The need to understand the cultural context of mental health when implementing efforts to support workplace mental health this could include, for example, levels of societal stigma around mental health

This webinar was just the beginning of the conversation about how businesses can take a more evidence-based approach to supporting workplace mental health.

In early 2021, Wellcome and WEF will be sharing further findings from the Workplace Mental Health Commission and looking to continue the dialogue with businesses about how we can embed a more evidence-based approach to workplace mental health. These conversations will help inform Wellcome’s plans for launching a second commission on approaches to workplace mental health later in 2021.

If you’d like further information on Wellcome’s Workplace Mental Health Commission or if you have any learning to share on how your organisation is already using evidence to support its approach to workplace mental health, please contact me at r.newman@wellcome.org

New webinar: Good work for wellbeing in the coronavirus economy: 12.00 - 1.00pm GMT, 12 February 2021

The webinar will focus on:

How to ensure the best possible jobs recovery and sustain the ambition of good work for all.
How to balance the goals of sustaining employment and improving job quality, so that work improves wellbeing for many more people.
The role of government in supporting employees and employers.
Action employees can take in these challenging times.

Previous article
Next article

Related

Blog
Jun 11, 2020 | By Sara Connolly and Magdalena Soffia
Comparing benefits and costs of wellbeing activities at work: new calculator and how-to guide
Guest Blog
May 27, 2020 | By Ying Zhou
Employee involvement and skill development during the pandemic
Guest Blog
Jan 31, 2018 | By Martin Short
Developing an evidence-informed workplace wellbeing questionnaire
Guest Blog

Sign up for our Evidence alerts

Sign up to receive resources and evidence as they are released.

New webinar: Good work for wellbeing in the coronavirus economy: 12.00 - 1.00pm GMT, 12 February 2021

The webinar will focus on:

How to ensure the best possible jobs recovery and sustain the ambition of good work for all.
How to balance the goals of sustaining employment and improving job quality, so that work improves wellbeing for many more people.
The role of government in supporting employees and employers.
Action employees can take in these challenging times.

Previous article
Next article