‘Workplaces Require a Whole Systems Approach to Mental Wellbeing’

by Professor Nicholas Clarke

To mark World Mental Health Day 2022 (10 October) Professor of Organisational Behaviour and HRM Nicholas Clarke reflects on the importance of good leadership, respect and open conversations…

“The latest figures from the HSE indicate that 32.5 million working days were lost in 2019/20 as a result of work-related ill health with almost 18 million of these, mental health related.

This data points to mental ill health and stress as now being among the top risk factors affecting wellbeing at work. Employers have a legal duty for the welfare of their employees, but a recent survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found almost half of respondent organisations had not developed staff well-being strategies.

Most would agree that actions to improve mental health in the workplace is not only important for the well-being of employees but also improves business outcomes, productivity and results in cost savings for society more generally.

Although many organisations have increased their range of initiatives to improve employee mental health, a major obstacle is that there is still much we need to do in furthering our understanding of the efficacy of interventions and developing a more holistic perspective on mental health and well-being.

We need to change to a more preventative approach to reduce the likelihood of mental illness than has traditionally been the case. This requires a “whole-systems” approach which recognises that aspects of the workplace, such as having control of one’s work, workloads, employee voice, feeling valued, recognition, career development and purposiveness also affect employee well-being and mental health.

Good leadership and line management are key not just to the implementation of well-being initiatives but are important factors affecting well-being in their own right. My own research has shown that even factors such as levels of mutual respect between line managers and their employees can have a significant effect on an employee’s psychological well being.

Action to improve mental health in the workplace must start with ensuring line managers have the necessary skills to hold conversations about mental health and stress and know where to direct their staff for further assistance. But more fundamentally in managers adopting a leadership style where psychological well-being can flourish.”

Professor Nicholas Clarke is Professor of Organisational Behaviour & HRM and Deputy Dean at Kent Business School. Nicholas’ research interests include advancing our understanding of how the quality of work relationships (manager-subordinate, team, organisation) influence learning and behaviour in organisations.

 For help and support with issues covered within this article visit Mental health support services – Help – University of Kent

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