Initiatives created by employers to help reduce stress and improve workers’ mental health are failing, according to new research.

Measures introduced by bosses are not working in combatting long-standing problems of wellbeing in the workplace, reported William Fleming of the University of Cambridge to a British Sociological Association conference.

Mr. Fleming analysed data from 2,471 employees in 128 UK organisations, including NHS trusts, and found that management initiatives are not having the positive result intended on employees’ mental health.

Speaking about classes for stress management, relaxation and mindfulness, Mr. Fleming told the conference that:

The primary finding from this research is that, across the board, there is no effect on employee wellbeing.

These types of interventions appear to be a convenient option for employers concerned with mental health, including the government, which as an employer, implements various wellbeing programmes throughout the civil service and NHS.

Merely offering short-term programmes or classes is not satisfactory for solving long-standing problems of worker wellbeing.

A number of frequently implemented initiatives were analysed, including stress management classes, mental health coaching, financial wellbeing courses, and wellbeing apps.

The only measure shown to have any positive impact was encouraging staff to carry out volunteering or charity work.

The findings also show that stress management classes generally worsened staff wellbeing, with the others having no effect.

Commenting on his findings in relation to mental health, Mr. Fleming stated:

These results are counter to much of the prevailing narrative around mental health interventions in governmental policy and within HR management and public health literature.

This research shows that these initiatives are not helpful for the average worker. The argument that these programmes are merely an attempt to ameliorate the worst of workplace alienation without altering fundamental labour systems is supported.

Offering a solution based on his findings, the conference was told that intervention cannot continue to be at employee level, and that management must take responsibility for addressing employee mental health.





Megan McElroy is a second year English Literature student at the University of Warwick. As Editorial Intern for HRreview, her interests include employment law and public policy. In relation to her degree, her favourite areas of study include Small Press Publishing and political poetry.