Today, Nottingham Business School at Nottingham Trent University have released ‘Psychological Wellbeing and Safety in a Global Context: A Rapid Evidence Assessment’. Lead by Professor Steven Brown and funded by Lloyd’s Register Foundation, the project aims to develop a greater understanding of the occupational factors that contribute to the mental health crisis, and recommend effective interventions to safeguard the safety of workers both physically and mentally across the planet.
In 2017, it was estimated that around 792 million people worldwide were living with at least one form of mental health condition; this is slightly over 10.7% of the global population. Psychological health issues are considered one of the main causes of the overall illness burden worldwide, and very few countries across the world have adequate resources for coping with mental health issues for the general population.
Psychological wellbeing constitutes one of the primary health concerns of this century, with some predicting that if current trends continue, mental health will become the leading cause of mortality worldwide by the end of the next decade. The report makes it clear that it is absolutely vital that policy makers, industry leaders, and those with influence recognise the mental health crisis in occupational contexts.
The report brings together evidence that confirms that psychological wellbeing has a significant impact on the productivity and behaviour of employees, strongly influenced by the nature of the work they’re conducting. However, amongst some of the sectors responsible for critical social and economic infrastructure – maritime/energy; construction; engineering; food and digital – ‘safety’ is still very much seen as a physical entity. This is putting the safety of workers and critical infrastructure at risk.
Psychosocial factors were found to be major contributors to poor mental health in occupational settings, for example job security and satisfaction, excessive workloads, unreasonable demands, lack of control and influence, unclear communication, poor effort-reward management, and boring or repetitive work.
The increasing use of smart technologies was also seen to be impacting psychological wellbeing in the form of stress, anxiety, burnout, and work-family conflicts due to time pressures, work interruptions, multitasking and the erosion of boundaries between work and life.
The report also examined best practice for managing and recording employee wellbeing among the sectors and recommends that organisations integrate a sustained approach to mental health into their business practices, while ensuring that any interventions are tailored to the nature of the work.
It is also recommended that organisational targets should not conflict with, or contradict, practices aimed at increasing employees’ psychological wellbeing, such as ‘flexible working’ which may include precarious zero-hours or fixed-term contracts.
Lead researcher Steven Brown, Professor of Health and Organisational Psychology at Nottingham Business School, said: “Psychological wellbeing needs to be treated as equally important as physiological health in reviewing and evaluating safety practices in occupational settings. This is a fundamental principle for securing improvements in safety practices.
“Better systems for recording data around psychological wellbeing need to be developed, which are both sensitive to the stigma around declaring mental health conditions, and able to distinguish between transient fluctuations in mood and longer terms impacts.
“The psychosocial factors vary between sectors, and for different employees, but employers should start by mapping what these factors are in their own organisation.
“Employees interpret these threats in ways which diminish their psychological wellbeing. They then respond in ways that can give rise to decreased productivity, unsafe behaviours and other impacts on safety.
“The kinds of interventions which work are those that are holistic, long term, and have buy-in across the organisation.”
The impact of COVID-19 and the return to work is also covered in the report. While some employees across the five sectors have acted as ‘frontline’ or ‘key workers’, others have worked remotely, with a risk of issues such as overworking, lack of exercise, loneliness and lack of support all significantly influencing psychological wellbeing during this period.
Professor Brown added: “As employees in the five sectors considered in this report begin to adjust to the new ways of working that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, the key psychosocial factors that impact on the psychological wellbeing of employees are a perception of clarity in the information provided and a feeling of being valued by employers. Managing successful transitions during and after the pandemic will require organisations to address both issues systematically.”
The researchers found that using a non-diagnostic approach to mental health called the Power Threat Meaning Framework, overcame some of the difficulties of comparing mental health outcomes across sectors and global regions, and could help organisations to model psychological wellbeing at work.
Read the full report: Psychological Wellbeing and Safety in a Global Context, A Rapid Evidence Assessment