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Best Practices for Improving Workplace Mental Health: A Review of the Literature

Review of research on effective strategies for supporting workplace mental health.

Workplace mental health improvement, beyond the moral imperative, benefits employers’ bottom lines. It can cut labor costs through decreased absenteeism and presenteeism and help employers compete for top-tier talent. Research shows that improvement, even for employees with subclinical but still elevated levels of anxiety and depression, can advance these aims, as well as simply help prevent full mental health disorders from developing in a business’s workforce.

To understand these benefits better and the workplace mental health interventions that are most effective, in 2018-2019, EARN, via its partner the Global Social Enterprise Initiative (GSEI) at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, conducted an extensive literature review.

In this review, GSEI examined 1,221 academic journal database search results about workplace mental health. After screening out duplicates, non-randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and studies set in developing countries, irrelevant to workplace mental health and not involving a workplace intervention, GSEI analyzed the effect sizes in those remaining (49) to establish an evidence base for different types of workplace mental health interventions.

GSEI found enough of an evidence base to recommend that health screening, dietary interventions, mindfulness training, non-stress-specific health classes, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) training, stress management training, and flexible scheduling can either increase workplace mental health or decrease workplace stress levels. It also found that establishing workplace problem-solving processes and providing non-stress-specific health classes can help to lower absenteeism and presenteeism.

It is important to note that any of these types of programs should be implemented very carefully, as there was wide variation in the results for any particular category depending on the specifics of the program’s design. It is recommended that employers carefully examine the details of any particular workplace mental health effort and be ready to adapt them to the needs of their workplaces in order to maximize effectiveness.