A Global Approach to Workplace Mental Wellbeing

mental health

Most health professionals will know that depression is now the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. As professionals in the workplace health and wellbeing field we must not accept this, especially as many of the reasons leading to mental illness originate in the workplace.

Mental wellbeing has become a major challenge and a key area of focus at the workplace. This applies to employers across the globe. The US news paint a dire picture: increase in suicides, loneliness at epidemic levels, substance abuse and violence related to mental illness, employee burnout, disengagement, etc., etc. While the news cycle may not be quite as fast moving and mental health as well researched in other countries the same challenges persist. A few examples:

  • waves of suicide at French telecoms company Orange (formerly France Telecom) shocking the entire the nation
  • the phenomenon of “Karoshi” (death through overwork) in Japan
  • the legislation of psychosocial risk management in Europe as a result of increasing work-related stress and perceived pressure
  • the emerging research on work-related stress, burnout and suicides in China sparking new debate
  • the highly publicized deaths of young, ambitious investment bankers in various countries

Many countries are dealing with concerning health trends as well as tragic personal stories. Without a doubt we have a global mental health problem just like we have a global obesity problem. But do we have a global solution to the global problem?

Most multinational employers do not have a global solution. Why? It is complex, takes considerable effort and ready-made packaged solutions are not available. Most multinational companies have not made a global strategy on health and wellbeing a priority… yet, you would think they have given the massive challenge described above. So what to do? What is good practice? What is recommended? Where to start?

A good place to start is the Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces Profiles and Case Studies. The Global Centre has recognized Healthy Workplaces since 2013 including multinational companies, which have excelled in offering health and wellbeing programs and achieving outcomes across their sites globally. Another useful resource is the Buck Consultants benchmarking study “Winning Strategies in Global Workplace Health Promotion in partnership with GCHW Co-Founder, International Health Consulting.

Taking a more targeted global approach to mental wellbeing we would like to make the following 5 recommendations:

1) Adopt a broader value proposition that has adequate emphasis on health and well-being factors and is aligned with business goals

A successful global strategy recognizes that employee health and mental wellbeing is a essential corporate asset – one that creates value with regard to key business goals such as employee recruitment/retention, engagement and productivity.

2) Strike a balance of central guidance and local autonomy

Strong corporate support is essential in order to consistently achieve successful outcomes, e.g. leveraging mental health expertise, resources and ideas across countries and regions. At the same time, a variety of different approaches and programs are necessary due to differing awareness levels and acceptance of mental health challenges.

3) Provide access to a core suite of mental wellbeing programs and policies

All global sites should implement mental health policies and have access to a core set of programs. Examples of policies include flexible work and anti-harassment policies. Core programs should include Mental Health First Aid, awareness campaigns to reduce stigma and employee assistance programs (EAP).

4) Gather globally consistent mental wellbeing metrics

While mental wellbeing metrics are manifold and often challenging to gather and compare across countries best efforts must be made to evaluate programs and report relevant metrics to leadership.

5) Analyze and address work-related factors and the psychosocial working environment

Next to resilience, mindfulness and counselling programs a focus on assessing and improving psychosocial factors is necessary in order to truly improve mental wellbeing. These factors include balance of demand-control and effort-reward, social support, role ambiguity, bullying, harassment at work, etc.

If you have followed the five recommendations and would like to learn more about and/or improve your workplace health programme, then join us for the 7th Global Healthy Workplace Awards and Summit in Melbourne, Australia from 30th October to 1 November 2019.

The Global Centre for Healthy Workplaces provides a global platform for learning and sharing via the Global Awards, Healthy Workplace Certification, the Global Summit, social media and other forms of communications.


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