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Importance of employee mental health in maintaining safety standards highlighted in new report

A report into the psychological wellbeing of employees in the key infrastructure industries of maritime/energy, construction, engineering, food and digital has recommended that mental health should be treated as seriously as physical health to protect workers and maintain safety standards.

Man holding a hard hat
The report reveals which aspects of work have the most impact on mental wellbeing for employees in key infrastructure industries

A rapid evidence assessment carried out by researchers at Nottingham Business School explored existing research across the five sectors which are responsible for the ‘critical infrastructure’ of modern life and where safety issues are paramount.

Funded by the Lloyd's Register Foundation, the report presents a global body of evidence which demonstrates that mental health is a major factor in reducing productivity and increasing costs within organisations and can provide an indication of the overall safety climate of an organisation and how it is experienced by its employees.

With many of the roles in the chosen sectors requiring hard physical work, the findings explored in the report suggest that feelings about the work environment rather than the physical nature of the work itself are critical to psychological wellbeing.

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

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    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

    A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2020 National Student Survey, above the sector average of 83%.

Importance of employee mental health in maintaining safety standards highlighted in new report

Published on 25 November 2020
  • Category: Press office; Research; Nottingham Business School

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