WHO Mental Health at Work Guidelines

Robyn Vernon-Harcourt, Programme Director, reflects on how the WHO Mental Health at Work guidelines are a step forward in transforming global workplace mental health and the pivotal role of leaders in driving this agenda. 


The launch of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Mental Health at Work Guidelines today, is a welcome and positive step in acknowledging and underlining the critical role work, and workplaces play in supporting, protecting and promoting good mental health. It is also an important  reminder of the risk poor, or harmful work has on worsening mental health and exacerbating existing mental health conditions. It is a clear call to action that ‘business as usual simply won’t do’.

The importance of evidence-based solutions

Whilst some progress has been made in workplace mental health to varying degrees of maturity in different markets, mental health is too often misunderstood, stigmatised and under-resourced. This coincides with a ‘worsening’ working environment for many, amplified by wider societal issues that negatively impact mental health. The WHO’s Mental Health at Work guidelines provide a comprehensive, evidence-based framework, to support employers across the globe take positive action, rooted in evidence, to transform workplace mental health. We welcome the importance placed on participatory approaches so that leaders, employees and other key stakeholders work together to reshape working environments to prevent and minimise psychosocial risk, protect and promote the mental health of their people and support employees with a mental health condition to access, continue and thrive at work.

This aligns closely with our approach at The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health (GBC), a business-led collaboration whose mission is to advocate for – and accelerate – positive change for mental health in the workplace on a global basis. No one business has all the answers when it comes to workplace mental health. We are a true collaboration between businesses, experts, mental health alliances, and not-for-profit organisations, who, together, are working towards shaping a mentally healthy future for all in the workplace.

Senior Leadership commitment

The WHO guidelines rightly identify that workplace leaders have a pivotal role to play, and particularly point to leadership being key to mitigating stigma and encouraging managers to participate in, utilise and sustain the effects of training. However, we believe the role of leaders should go further.

At the GBC we believe for progress to be made, senior leaders need to be equipped to recognise signs of struggle, have the right tools to support employees, and commit to taking tangible and evidence-based action on mental health and wellbeing in the workplace – including the WHO recommendations – enabling their workforce to thrive.

Our Leadership Pledge places business leaders front and centre, recognising the critical role they play in every territory they operate in.

Organisational vs individual responsibility   

We must avoid falling into the trap that mental health has been seen as only the responsibility of the individual employee, and we welcome the focus on both organisational and individual interventions within the guidelines. The evidence demonstrates that whilst individual interventions are important, they are less likely to be effective or adopted if they are not delivered in conjunction with organisational and managerial interventions.

Our Leadership Pledge and six pledge areas provide a framework for both leaders and organisations to start taking  tangible and sustainable steps to transform how their organisation thinks and acts around mental health, aligning with good practice from around the globe.

Accelerating progress for all

Global change starts at a local level. The WHO guidelines highlight there is a critical need to increase the quality of evidence for workplace mental health, especially for those organisations and employees in low-and-medium income countries (LMICs). We invite leaders around the globe to join our global community and commit to prioritising workplace mental health in every territory they operation in.  Through sharing insights and best practice on what works globally for mental health at work, we can accelerate our collective journey to create more open, welcoming and supportive workplace environments for our employees to thrive.

We invite you to join us on the 10th October, World Mental Health Day, to continue these important conversations on making mental health a global priority for your organisation – no matter what stage of your journey you are at. Register here.

Read the full WHO Mental Health at Work Guidelines here and the Mental Health at Work: Policy brief here.  

To find out more about The Global Business Collaboration for Better Workplace Mental Health and our Leadership Pledge click here.

For support on achieving the WHO guidelines, download a framework for action from our partner organisation, MindForward Alliance’s Global Thriving at Work framework.