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  • Tamar Balkin

We Need To Broaden Our Perspective On Managing Psychological Well-Being In The Workplace.

"Even if we’re just dancing in the dark”

Dancing In The Dark By Bruce Springsteen (Click here for the  song) 



Photo by Alex Cook on Unsplash


 

"Of the approximately 10,000 serious mental stress claims in 2021-22p, the highest proportion were attributed to work-related harassment and/or workplace bullying (27.5%), work pressure (25.2%) and exposure to workplace or occupational violence (16.4%). "


Safe Work Australia. 

 

The Australian Corporate Wellness Services sector has experienced significant growth, outpacing overall economic expansion, and generated revenue totalling $294.5 million in 2024. However, mental health issues are becoming more prevalent in workplaces, leading to a significant increase in serious workers’ compensation claims and heightened awareness of their impact.


Recent research found that over half of UK employers have implemented a formal wellbeing strategy, with an additional third offering ad hoc support. Common interventions target individual workers and include employee assistance programs (EAPs), counselling, resilience and stress management training, and promoting healthy lifestyles. While individual-level interventions may provide temporary relief, they often fail to enhance subjective well-being in the long term. In addition, when the focus is on individual interventions, it generally implies that mental health issues are solely the responsibility of the individual, potentially exacerbating stress. The small ad-hoc approach to wellbeing typically involves initiatives that may increase the resources of the individual often to enable the organisation to increase the demands.



Researchers have found that 96% of HR decision-makers say that scientific rigour and an evidence base are important, factors when selecting a well-being solution. In practice, this unfortunately is not the case. In addition, organisations often lack proper evaluation of their well-being programs, with only a minority critically assessing outcomes for participating employees.


 

What can be done?


 

“Few people have a greater opportunity to make a difference than leaders of large companies.”  


Dr Nick Taylor


 

Regular readers would know that enhancing workplace well-being requires a multifaceted approach. Researchers have found that successful organisations are guided by a few models. According to the Job Demands-Resources Model, interventions should focus on identifying what the demands are in a particular workplace, and how these could be reduced or removed. Next, the focus is on identifying the resources in this context that can be enhanced or improved to help staff with their work, meet their psychological needs, or mitigate the effects of demands. The  IGLOO model expands on this idea and provides a useful framework to view demands and resources at the level of the individual, group, leader, organisation, and overarching context. The IGLOO model is a more systematic approach to understanding interventions, recognising that antecedents to staff wellbeing, and the actions needed to intervene, exist across different levels. Effective workplace well-being strategies require a holistic approach that addresses the way work is organised, designed, and managed at all four levels to ensure both a decrease in demands and an increase in resources.  


Job demands are ‘the physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of the job that require sustained physical, cognitive, and/or emotional effort’ (Bakker et al., 2023, p. 32); For example, unrealistic timelines, inadequate staffing, aggressive customers and stakeholders, harassment, poor job design, and psychosocial hazards.


Job resources are ‘the physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of the job that have motivating potential, that are functional in achieving work goals, that regulate the impact of job demands, and that stimulate learning and personal growth’ (Bakker et al., 2023). For example, personal characteristics, like self-efficacy competence and self-esteem, collaborative relationships, social support, supportive leadership, psychological safety, and organisational policies that uphold fundamental employment principles like ethical conduct, autonomy, and respect.


Researchers have found that adopting evidence-based practices, fostering psychological safety, and embracing a whole-business approach to organisational change are essential for creating a psychologically healthy workplace. In addition, all efforts are enhanced when staff are involved, leaders support initiatives, and strategic planning focuses on long-term improvement.  


Despite evidence to the contrary,  leaders often adopt a simplistic approach to well-being initiatives.


Although they aim to show concern for employee well-being, leaders typically prefer initiatives that save time, require minimal effort, and few complex changes. Consequently, they tend to gravitate towards quick fixes, fads, outsourcing solutions, placing responsibility on external service providers or employees, and opting for simple and relatively inexpensive options. Ignoring the organisational and leadership responsibilities in addressing well-being typically leads to ineffective outcomes and potentially harmful consequences. 



 

Final thoughts: 


As we transition further into a knowledge-based economy, where success hinges upon the skills, expertise, values, ethics, and motivation of employees, it becomes imperative that all strategic decisions meticulously address both the human and financial ramifications.


 

References: 

www.ibisworld.com. (n.d.). IBISWorld - Industry Market Research, Reports, and Statistics. [online] Available at: https://www.ibisworld.com/au/market-size/corporate-wellness-services/.



Day, A., & Nielsen, K. (2017). What does our organization do to help our well-being? Creating healthy workplaces and workers. In N. Chmiel, F. Fraccoli, & M. Sverke (Eds.), An introduction to work and organizational psychology: An international perspective (pp. 295). Sussex: Wiley \Blackwell.


Fleming, W.J. (2024). Employee well‐being outcomes from individual‐level mental health interventions: Cross‐sectional evidence from the United Kingdom. Industrial Relations Journal. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/irj.12418.


‌CIPD (2023). CIPD | Health and wellbeing at work. [online] CIPD. Available at: https://www.cipd.org/uk/knowledge/reports/health-well-being-work/.


Nielsen, K., Nielsen, M.B., Ogbonnaya, C., Känsälä, M., Saari, E. and Isaksson, K. (2017). Workplace resources to improve both employee well-being and performance: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Work & Stress, 31(2), pp.101–120. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2017.1304463.



Nielsen, K., Yarker, J., Munir, F. and Bültmann, U. (2018). IGLOO: An integrated framework for sustainable return to work in workers with common mental disorders. Work & Stress, 32(4), pp.400–417. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2018.1438536.


Unmind and Partner, C. (2023). Why having a wellbeing strategy is more important than ever. [online] www.hrleader.com.au. Available at: https://www.hrleader.com.au/wellbeing/23816-why-having-a-wellbeing-strategy-is-more-important-than-ever [Accessed 27 Feb. 2024].


Safeworkaustralia.gov.au. (2024). Quarterly News Update - Issue 6 - February 2024 - plain text | Safe Work Australia. [online] Available at: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/media-centre/enews/quarterly-news-update-issue-6-february-2024-plain-text [Accessed 27 Feb. 2024].

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