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WHO publishes guidelines to transform workplace wellbeing

Positive workplace wellbeing as mutually beneficial

In September, the World Health Organisation (WHO) took an important step which advises organisations around the world to prioritise workplace wellbeing. The motivation behind such progress is a finding by the ILO that 60% of the global population is in work, and so wellbeing must be maintained to avoid catastrophic individual and societal effects.

WHO have outlined four ways in which the workplace plays a vital function in employee wellbeing:


Moreover, for those struggling with mental health conditions, work can actually be a catalyst for recovery by offering a sense of inclusion and instilling personal confidence.

The benefits of a healthy workforce extend beyond the individual to serving the whole organisation, namely by minimizing tension, improving staff retention, and enhancing employee performance.

Risks and costs of poor mental health and wellbeing

Unfortunately, there exist many triggers that can have a detrimental impact as outlined by the report, such as violence, harassment and bullying, excessive workloads, job insecurity, an unclear job role, and conflicting home/work demands. 

What are the consequences of low mental health in the workplace? WHO estimates that $12 billion working days are lost due to depression and anxiety, which equates to $1 trillion in productivity. Currently, only 35% of countries have national programmes for employee wellbeing. Taken together, there is a great need for support, which organisations are far from satisfying.

As WHO director, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, points out: “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. 

WHO urges training for optimum organisational culture 

WHO has therefore issued new guidelines which suggest:

  1. Universal organizational interventions to address psychosocial risks, such as flexible working arrangements and changes to workload or breaks. However, it’s important to note that psychosocial risks vary by culture and context which should be factored in when designing the intervention. 
  2. Mental health training for managers which will allow them to confidently identify and respond to employees who require support for any mental health issues. 
  3. Mental health training for workers to increase literacy and awareness, thereby improving attitudes about and reducing stigma of mental health issues. 
  4. Universal individual interventions to support employees’ skills in stress management, such as mindfulness, CBT, interpersonal soft skills, and expressive writing. 

In addition, the report offers interventions for those returning to work after absence owing to mental health conditions, as well as recommendations for gaining employment among those living with severe mental health conditions. The overall aim of these WHO guidelines is fourfold:

  1. Prevent work-related mental health conditions through psychosocial risk management which includes using organisational interventions to reshape working conditions and cultures.
  2. Protect and promote mental health at work, especially through training and interventions that improve mental health literacy, strengthen skills to recognise and act on mental health conditions at work, and empower workers to seek support. 
  3. Support workers with mental health conditions to participate fully and equitably in work through reasonable accommodations, return-to-work programmes and supported employment initiatives. 
  4. Create an enabling environment with cross-cutting actions to improve mental health at work through leadership, investment, rights, integration, participation, evidence and compliance. 

Date: 15th November 2022

Word count: 533