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New report by Birkbeck academic advises how to improve workplace mental health

Aimed at employers, occupational health, and human resources professionals, the report urges workplace interventions to move beyond awareness raising and offers information on how to design programmes that lead to systemic changes.

An office setting with three people sitting at computers. The second person alon, a woman, has head head in her hands. The other two people look at her.

Dr Kevin Teoh, Senior Lecturer in Birkbeck’s Business School, has jointly produced a new report with the Society of Occupational Medicine (SOM) and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) that encourages more effective interventions to support employees and colleagues in managing their mental health. The report, entitled ‘The value of Occupational Health and Human Resources in supporting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace’, has been launched at a time of increased mental health issues in UK workplaces 

Dr Teoh commented: “The need to support employees and colleagues in managing their mental health is recognised, however the wide range of interventions being marketed makes it difficult for employers to know what works. This report takes into account relevant and evidence-based practice as well as research evidence that better working environments are associated with better mental health and wellbeing. We need to not only recognise the opportunities and expertise available, but also the limits of one’s competence and abilities and provide tools to help with this. 

The report, which is aimed at employers, occupational health, and human resources professionals, seeks to “cut through the noise” and identify what really works. It offers information on how to design programmes and interventions for organisations and provides examples and case studies on how Human Resources (HR) and Occupational Health (OH) can work together to draw upon their unique strengths and expertise to implement change. 

CIPD Senior Employee Relations Adviser Rachel Suff, said: “We know that organisations recognise the importance of investing in mental health and wellbeing, but a more systematic and evidence-based approach to workplace health is needed. It’s important that HR and OH professionals work together to prevent stress and provide support for employees, ensure managers have adequate training, and to create an open, inclusive culture.” 

To help organisations take a more systematic approach to support worker mental health and wellbeing, the report is structured around seven questions with accompanying resources, tools, and evidence summaries: 

  1. What are we looking to achieve?  

  1. What are the factors that contribute to this? 

  1. Can we address these underlying factors? 

  1. Can we support our workers with what they do? 

  1. What is the evidence for the interventions being offered?  

  1. Who has the expertise to support us with this? 

  1. How do we know this has or will work? 

The report also urges that workplace interventions need to move beyond awareness raising and individual-focused activities, recommending primary, secondary, and tertiary interventions: 

  • Primary level interventions (prevention) - identifying root causes e.g. ensuring workload is manageable, adequate support is available, leadership is compassionate, inclusive, and ethical. Training managers to support the wellbeing of their staff and encourage employees to seek help.  

  • Secondary level interventions (support) - improving people’s ability to cope with challenging aspects of their roles. Effective strategies include helping staff maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal life.  

  • Tertiary level interventions (rehabilitation) - focusing on treatment and encouraging a safe and healthy return to work. Occupational health, the specialist and expert field of health and wellbeing at work, is a crucial part of the solution. 

Dr Lanre Ogunyemil, President of SOM added: "The issues around mental health in our society are pressing. We are seeing record numbers of days being lost due to work related stress, with a need to support employees and colleagues in managing their mental health. There are many interventions that are being publicised and sold to employers. This guide advises which interventions are effective and provides OH and HR professionals and managers with the information they need to design programs and interventions for their organisations." 

The report was launched on November 27, 2023, and is available to read in full on the SOM website.  

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