On 20th May we held a joint event with the PrOPEL Hub on Workplace Wellbeing, Mental Health and Productivity to share some insights from some of the latest research funded by the ESRC.

The first presentation of the day was by ERC Research Fellow Maria Wishart. Maria gave an overview of the emerging findings from our longitudinal, comparative research exploring the links between workplace mental health and productivity, comparing the UK, Ireland and Sweden. The research has found significant differences between the countries in terms of mental health related sickness absence, presenteeism, engagement in mental health initiatives, and the impacts of mental health issues on business performance. There are lessons the UK could learn from the more strategic/holistic approach towards mental health taken in Sweden, and our research will be exploring further.

We heard next from Adam Whitworth of Strathclyde Business School, who presented his research on supported employment services, setting out the evidence on their success and growth, and how they provide an alternative approach to supporting people with mental health conditions to return to and stay in work, and flourish in their jobs.

Helen Fitzhugh of the University of East Anglia was next to the floor, giving an overview of another extensive programme of work – the Evolve Workplace Wellbeing programme. This research has involved over 280 interviews, as well as systematic reviews and data analysis. Helen warned against employers falling into the ‘spangle trap’ – or focusing on occasional events and novel initiatives rather than integrating wellbeing into the way the organisation operates.
We then heard from Louise Thomson of Nottingham University, who presented lessons from the Managing Minds at Work project, a pilot intervention delivering online support to line managers to help better manage workplace mental health. The programme was successful in increasing the wellbeing of line managers as well as their mental health knowledge and management competencies, showing the value of providing online support for this crucial group.

We finished with a panel discussion chaired by Sean Russell, who led the Mental Health and Productivity Pilot Programme (MHPP) funded by the Midlands Engine. Panellists Francoise Woolley (Acas), Jonathan Stuart (Mind) and Dr Rachel Morris (mental health expert and podcaster) raised a range of themes, including flexibility and the importance of effective communication/dialogue to create mentally healthy workplaces. The need for more focus on how to set boundaries, manage conflict and challenge toxic behaviours was also emphasised during the discussion.

A key theme of the day was that workplace mental health and wellbeing is a continuous journey and a shared responsibility for organisations. It should not be treated as a ‘tick box’ exercise, and prevention should be the focus, not crisis management. We also need to find ways of getting employers to make more use of the evidence on what works rather than short term fixes.

Find out more about the ERC’s mental health and productivity research here

View a selection of the photos from the day here :