EMPOWERed while working

The Importance of Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental Health in the Workplace

Everyone has the right to good mental health and well-being

Being mentally healthy is more than the absence of mental health problems. According to the WHO, mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the everyday stresses of life, can work productively and can contribute to his or her community.

Mental health is an indispensable part of health; there is no health without mental health. However, it is widely recognised that mental health is frequently under-resourced and underfunded.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises World Mental Health Day on 10 October every year. The theme of this year is “Make Mental Health & Well-being for all a global priority”. The main objective is to raise awareness of mental health issues worldwide and to mobilise efforts in support of mental health. Making mental health for all a global priority involves directly addressing the stereotyped views about mental health conditions and how they affect people.

In the world of work, celebrating World Mental Health Day is a fantastic way to draw attention to barriers to mental health, such as the lack of mental health services and stigma in the workplace. For instance, mental health-related stigma can lead to the discrimination of people who have or are perceived to have mental health conditions. Notably, as reported by the World Mental Health Report (WHO, 2022), the right to work is one of the most commonly violated rights for people experiencing mental health problems. Even when people who are living with a mental health condition can get a job, they are often underpaid.

World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health Day 2022 (WHO)

All workers have the right to a safe and healthy environment at work

Although an unsafe or unhealthy working environment can undermine mental health, good working conditions protect employees’ mental health and well-being.

Guidelines on Mental health at Work

Guidelines on mental health at work. WHO, 2022

Work can impact mental health

  • Almost 60% of the world population is in work.
  • 1 in 6 working-age adults were estimated to have a mental disorder in 2019.
  • Globally, an estimated 12 billion working days are lost every year on account of depression and anxiety at a cost of US$1 trillion per year in lost productivity.
  • Example of poor working environments: discrimination and inequality, excessive workloads, low job control and job insecurity.

Work can protect mental health

  • Decent work supports good mental health. For people with mental health conditions, decent work contributes to recovery, inclusion and improves confidence.
  • Safe and healthy working environments minimize tension and conflicts at work, improve staff retention, work performance and productivity.

Some facts on mental health at work (WHO, 2022)


The WHO and the International Labour Organization (ILO) have called for concrete actions to address mental health concerns in the working population. The WHO has recently published guidelines addressing this issue for the first time: the WHO Guidelines on mental health at work and a derivative WHO/ILO policy brief.

Guidelines on mental health at work. WHO, 2022

In these guidelines, the WHO provides evidence-based global public health guidance on organisational interventions, manager and worker training, and individual interventions for promoting positive mental health and preventing mental health conditions. Also, recommendations on returning to work following absence associated with mental health conditions and gaining employment for people living with mental health conditions.

A separate WHO/ILO policy brief explains the WHO guidelines regarding practical strategies for governments, employers and workers, and their organisations in the public and private sectors.

These guidelines aim to support the prevention of mental health risks, protect and promote mental health at work, and support those with mental health conditions, so they can participate and thrive in the world of work.

Guidelines on mental health at work

Guidelines on mental health at work. WHO, 2022

Key recommendations for employers

The WHO/ILO recommend employers use the following strategies to support the mental health and well-being of employees:

  1. Prevent workers from experiencing mental health conditions by preventing the risks to their mental health at work.
    • Identify your workforce’s risks to mental health and introduce organisational interventions to modify, mitigate or remove them.
    • For example, offer flexible working arrangements and modify workloads or work schedules to optimise work-life balance.
  1. Protect and promote mental health at work by building up the capacity of managers to support their workers.
    • Introduce manager training for mental health.
    • Consider training workers in mental health literacy and awareness to reduce mental health-related stigma.
    • Introduce individual interventions (e.g. Stress-management training)
    • Ensure that any intervention you introduce has been tested for effectiveness, quality and safety.
  1. Support workers with mental health conditions to access, participate and thrive at work:
    • Allow for reasonable accommodations that adapt working environments to match the worker’s capacities, needs and preferences (e.g. Time to complete tasks).
    • Support employees to meaningfully return to work after absences associated with mental health conditions by providing work-directed care and access to ongoing clinical care.
    • Participate in supported employment initiatives and coordinate with relevant stakeholders to support people with severe mental health conditions to gain and maintain work.
  1. Create an enabling environment for change:
    • Commit to mental health at work with dedicated leadership and plan.
    • Secure funds and resources to deliver your strategy.
    • Ensure workers’ rights.
    • Make sure you integrate mental health into the existing occupational safety and health system.
    • Engage workers in decision-making about mental health at work.
    • Make sure the interventions you implement are evidence-based.
    • Compliance: monitor and evaluate actions for mental health.

Need to increase high-quality research on interventions for mental health at work

Research is key to understanding which factors influence health and identifying and testing interventions that promote workplace health and well-being. The Guidelines on mental health at work (WHO, 2022) also identify overall research gaps, such as the need to increase the availability of high-quality research on organisational interventions.

In EMPOWER (The European Platform to Promote Wellbeing and Health in the workplace), we are committed to creating a mentally healthy workplace with a positive working culture. We believe in workplaces where everyone can thrive, feel valued, respected and supported, and where everyone feels comfortable discussing mental health.

EMPOWER is a research and innovation effort, with an innovative pilot of implementation, that focuses on the development and implementation of a novel and low-cost eHealth platform to address mental health in the workplace from a multimodal perspective. The eHealth platform addresses the need to reduce stigma, increase help-seeking behaviour, raise mental health awareness, minimise psychosocial risks, and improve self-management strategies.

The EMPOWER Project has also launched an antistigma campaign consisting of antistigma material and psycho-educational material focussing on stressors at work to help employers and employees create a better working environment. More information can be found at https://antistigma.empower-project.eu/.




World Health Organisation (WHO) (2022). Guidelines on mental health at work.

World Health Organisation (WHO)/International Labour Organization (ILO) (2022). Mental Health at Work: policy brief. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240057944

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2022). World Mental Health Day.

World Health Organisation (WHO) (2022). World mental health report: Transforming mental health for all. https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240049338



Kerry Rodríguez McGreevy, Psychologist, PhD
WHO Collaborating Centre for Mental Health Services Research and Training.
Department of Psychiatry. School of Medicine. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid.