Workplace mental wellbeing has always been a long established core HR focus, but it has come into sharp relief during the pandemic. Following the principles of evidence-based practice, this review summarises the best available research on workplace mental wellbeing, including whether digital work harms mental wellbeing. The evidence summary and scientific summary below outline this research alongside expert views from leading HR professionals.
What does scientific research tell us we should do about the work-related factors – including digital work – that affect mental wellbeing?
Bullying and inter-personal conflict cause major problems for mental wellbeing so proactive, effective approaches to resolving conflict should be high up on the agenda for mental wellbeing. On the positive side, employers and managers should also look for ways to build social cohesion and support – for example through team building and good leadership.
Working long hours can have a major influence on mental wellbeing, and in a digital age there is a real risk employees feel they have to be ‘always on’. Employers must keep this in check to protect their employees’ mental health. Poor work-life balance is closely related to unmanageable workloads, although the effect of this on wellbeing can be mitigated by well-designed jobs – in particular giving people autonomy so they are empowered to control their work methods and schedule.
There are certain psychological states – such as feeling unfairly treated at work and not being able to comprehend or find meaning in events – that can be closely related to mental ill health. Leaders do well to measure these through staff surveys and keep in mind when communicating to the organisation or designing HR processes, especially during times of organisational change.
To prioritise effective action, it is important to consider what aspects of organisational life are most influential. To gauge this, we calculate how each of the key factors typically translate to sickness absence. For example, the effect of bullying is substantial – it equates to an increase in sickness absence of about 60 to 100 days per year for an organisation of 100 employees. Social support and cohesion, on the other hand, effectively reduces sickness absence by 15 days a year.
Download the discussion report and related scientific summary
For more on this topic read our article on Prioritising wellbeing in an ‘always on’ digital age which explores research looking at what employers do to help ‘always on’ working as a serious barrier to wellbeing. You can also read the article outlining what HR directors had to share about work-related mental wellbeing and digital work in their organisation.
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