HR Leaders: Here are 3 Key Takeaways from the WHO’s New Mental Health at Work Guidelines

by | Nov 28, 2022

At the end of September, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published their first-ever global guidelines on mental health at work. The aim of these guidelines is to educate businesses about what they can do to ensure safe and supportive working conditions that promote good mental health.

Apart from the publication of ISO 45003, a global standard giving practical guidance on managing mental health in the workplace which we’ve talked about in a previous post, this is the first time such a prominent organisation has shed light on this topic and offered research as well as recommendations about what companies can do.

The types of recommendations are broken down by types of interventions at the organisational level, recommendations for training managers, recommendations for training workers and recommendations for individual interventions. In this article, we’ve highlighted our top 3 takeaways from their new guidelines, so you don’t have to skim read the 134-page document(!).

Key takeaway #1: Steps must be taken to help workers return to work due to mental health related challenges.

The WHO’s research found that employees value return-to-work programmes with the majority of those on leave for mental health reasons considering these to be extremely important.

They found that return-to-work programmes worked best when it involved multiple meetings over a variable period of time (e.g. nine meetings in three months) and when a number of stakeholders are involved to ensure the smooth return to work. This includes occupational health specialists, medical generalists and employment consultants, for example.

What might surprise you to read is that the WHO found that active involvement of occupational health specialists in the return to work was deemed as cost-saving and cost-effective on the basis of the benefits of reducing absence: in the Netherlands, a return of $0.87 to $10.63 was found for every $1 invested. In Finland, a cost-saving of $17 to $43 was found per avoided absence day.

This provides strong evidence in favour of investing in the mental health of those coming back from sick leave associated with poor mental health.

Key takeaway #2: Interventions that promote mindfulness should be driven within the workplace.

The WHO gave two recommendations when it comes to universal individual interventions.

Firstly, they recommend stress management interventions such as mindfulness or CBT approaches which may be considered. Secondly, they recommend leisure-based physical activity where work facilitates these external opportunities to participate in these activities.

The WHO draws particular attention to one study in particular which revealed that for every £1 invested in workplace stress management in England, there is an estimated ROI of £2. In addition, there is a 138% ROI in a review of over 250,000 employees across 12 countries.

They’re not the only public body to recommend these initiatives. Public Health England also recommend these interventions, although they stress that while CBT is cost-effective, the evidence base on alternative workplace-based stress and depression-reduction interventions is growing, such as yoga.

Key takeaway #3: Line manager training on mental health is strongly recommended

The WHO also stresses the importance of the role of line managers in these guidelines, indicating they are in a strong position to create positive change.

The researchers found evidence to suggest that training managers around spotting the signs of mental health and support routes helps to increase their confidence and improve attitudes around mental health within the workplace.

Trained managers also were found to be linked to staff feeling confident in seeking the wellbeing support they might need.

We thought the WHO raised two relevant points in particular.

The first is that the study highlighted that training was imperative when supporting team members with existing mental health conditions, with such benefits seeming to be at their strongest if training is delivered twice a year, within working hours. Investment in upskilling managers, therefore, cannot be a one-off investment, it requires time commitment.

The second point they raised is that senior leadership commitment is required to encourage other managers to utilise the training and to culturally sustain the effects of training. They didn’t, however, specify in what ways HR can secure this support from senior leaders.

This is why we created our Rise of the New Leader™ programme to equip managers with the tools they need not just to balance their own mental health needs while managing others, but to also spot the signs of poor mental health in members of their own team and signpost them to appropriate methods of support.

“It’s time to focus on the detrimental effect work can have on our mental health. The well-being of the individual is reason enough to act, but poor mental health can also have a debilitating impact on a person’s performance and productivity. These new guidelines can help prevent negative work situations and cultures and offer much-needed mental health protection and support for working people.” – Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General

At a time when the economy looks dire after the Bank of England warns the UK economy may fall into the longest recession in 100 years, we want to echo the stance of the WHO: now is the time to be proactive when it comes to mental health, not to cut back investment in it.

Investing in leadership development, especially in line manager training, is one of the best ways that HR leaders can ensure reduced presenteeism and absenteeism, increased productivity and fewer complaints. It might seem like a high initial cost, but the long-term results are worth it.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help you address any employee wellbeing concerns such as employee burnout, stress-related complaints and absences, or unexplained low productivity, book a consult call here and the Aurora team can support your company’s employee wellbeing plans.

Aurora UK is a mental health and wellbeing consultancy that helps organisations increase employee resilience and productivity; reduce chronic stress, burnout and absenteeism, through mental wellbeing and productivity training, coaching, & strategic frameworks. Previous clients include the London School of Economics (LSE), Imperial College London, Allianz, Michael Page, Page Executive, Matillion, Cochlear, North Sea Transition Authority, and North East London NHS Foundation Trust.

At Aurora UK, we are all about mental wellbeing & productivity. To discover holistic solutions to empower your people and maximise their full potential, contact us to find out more. – Ngozi Weller, Aurora UK

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