The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently updated its fact sheet on mental health at work. Simultaneously, it has released new guidelines on mental health at work.
Almost 60% of the world population is in work.
Safe and healthy working environments are not only a fundamental right but are also more likely to minimize tension and conflicts at work and improve staff retention, work performance and productivity. Conversely, a lack of effective structures and support at work, especially for those living with mental health conditions, can affect a person’s ability to enjoy their work and do their job well; it can undermine people’s attendance at work and even stop people getting a job in the first place.
Although psychosocial risks can be found in all sectors, some workers are more likely to be exposed to them than others, because of what they do or where and how they work. Health, humanitarian or emergency workers often have jobs that carry an elevated risk of exposure to adverse events, which can negatively impact mental health.
Economic recessions or humanitarian and public health emergencies elicit risks such as job loss, financial instability, reduced employment opportunities or increased unemployment.
Work can be a setting which amplifies wider issues that negatively affect mental health, including discrimination and inequality based on factors such as, race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, social origin, migrant status, religion or age.
Organizational interventions are those that assess, and then mitigate, modify or remove workplace risks to mental health. Organizational interventions include, for example, providing flexible working arrangements, or implementing frameworks to deal with violence and harassment at work.
Decent work is good for mental health.
Poor working environments – including discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, low job control and job insecurity – pose a risk to mental health.
15% of working-age adults were estimated to have a mental disorder in 2019.
Globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of US$ 1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
Risks to mental health at work can include:
- under-use of skills or being under-skilled for work;
- excessive workloads or work pace, understaffing;
- long, unsocial or inflexible hours;
- lack of control over job design or workload;
- unsafe or poor physical working conditions;
- organizational culture that enables negative behaviours;
- limited support from colleagues or authoritarian supervision;
- violence, harassment or bullying;
- discrimination and exclusion;
- unclear job role;
- under- or over-promotion;
- job insecurity, inadequate pay, or poor investment in career development; and
- conflicting home/work demands.
Protecting and promoting mental health at work is about strengthening capacities to recognize and act on mental health conditions at work, particularly for persons responsible for the supervision of others, such as managers.
To protect mental health, WHO recommends:
- manager training for mental health, which helps managers recognize and respond to supervisees experiencing emotional distress; builds interpersonal skills like open communication and active listening; and fosters better understanding of how job stressors affect mental health and can be managed;
- training for workers in mental health literacy and awareness, to improve knowledge of mental health and reduce stigma against mental health conditions at work; and
- interventions for individuals to build skills to manage stress and reduce mental health symptoms, including psychosocial interventions and opportunities for leisure-based physical activity.
Link to updated WHO fact sheet:
Link to new WHO Guidelines on mental health at work: