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How can organisations help Positive


mental health
employees thrive? The at work
development of guidelines for
promoting positive mental health 411

at work Received 4 January 2016


Revised 2 May 2016
Accepted 25 July 2016
Lauren J. Davenport
Faculty of Health, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia
Amanda F. Allisey
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia
Kathryn M. Page and Anthony D. LaMontagne
Faculty of Health, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia, and
Nicola J. Reavley
Melbourne School of Population and Global Health,
University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

Abstract
Purpose – Benefits of positive mental health have been demonstrated across work and non-work
domains. Individuals reporting positive mental health experience better work performance, better
social relationships and better physical health. Additionally, positive work environments can
contribute to employee mental health. The purpose of this paper is to develop “expert” consensus
regarding practical, actionable strategies that organisations can implement to promote positive mental
health in the workplace.
Design/methodology/approach – A Delphi consensus method was used to establish expert consensus
on strategies to promote positive workplace mental health. A 278-item questionnaire was developed and
strategies were rated over three survey rounds by two panels comprising 36 workplace mental health
practitioners and 36 employer representatives and employees (27 and 9, respectively), employees with
experience of promoting positive mental health and well-being in the workplace (total – 72 panellists).
Findings – In total, 220/278 strategies were rated as essential or important by at least 80 per cent of
both panels. Endorsed strategies covered the topics of: mental health and well-being strategy, work
environment that promotes positive mental health, positive leadership styles, effective communication,
designing jobs for positive mental health, recruitment and selection, supporting and developing
employees, work-life balance, and positive mental health and well-being initiatives.
Originality/value – The guidelines arising from this study represent expert consensus on what is
currently appropriate for promoting positive mental health at work from the perspectives of workplace
mental health practitioners, employers and employees, and constitute a resource for translating the
growing body of knowledge in this area into policy and practice.
Keywords Workplace health, Delphi, Positive psychology, Well-being, Positive mental health
Paper type Research paper

Introduction
International Journal of Workplace
Work is a primary determinant of socio-economic position and plays a critical role in Health Management
mental and physical well-being (Paul and Moser, 2009). People who are employed Vol. 9 No. 4, 2016
pp. 411-427
report greater life satisfaction and self-worth, as well as more effective and meaningful © Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1753-8351
personal relationships (Chen and Cooper, 2014; Dutton et al., 2011). High-quality DOI 10.1108/IJWHM-01-2016-0001
IJWHM workplaces can also contribute to greater employee mental health and consequently,
9,4 more effective organisations.
Until relatively recently, research into the links between work and mental health has
tended to focus on the adverse effects of a poor psychosocial work environment, with
evidence that this can increase the risk of mental health problems, particularly
depression (Bonde, 2008; Stansfeld and Candy, 2006). However, the growing interest in
412 positive mental health and positive psychology has had a considerable influence on
workplace practices and efforts to enhance employee health and well-being. Promoting
the positive aspects of work (wellness focus) complements and extends the traditional
occupational health and safety emphasis on the prevention and control of work-related
harm to mental health (illness focus). We have argued that an optimal and
integrated approach to workplace mental health would thus include preventing
work-related harms, promoting of the positive aspects of work, and addressing mental
health problems regardless of cause (LaMontagne et al., 2014). Of the three aspects of
such an integrated approach, the evidence-base for promoting the positive is the least
developed (LaMontagne et al., 2014). Thus the need for this research to develop
consensus regarding practical, actionable strategies that can be implemented to
promote positive mental health in the workplace.
Insights from the study of positive organisational behaviour and positive psychology
indicate that employees who experience positive mental health and greater psychological
capital are more satisfied, committed and productive (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi,
2000; Youssef and Luthans, 2007). However, while evidence regarding the strategies that
individuals can personally engage in to promote positive mental health has grown in
recent years (Sin and Lyubomirsky, 2009), research evidence regarding the actions that
individuals, teams and organisations can take in a workplace setting to promote positive
mental health is still in its infancy (Meyers et al., 2013).
In parallel to the growing emphasis on promoting positive mental health at work, a
number of organisations have been implementing strategies to increase employee
well-being and therefore have valuable practical evidence to share with researchers and
other organisations. The aim of this research was therefore to “close the gap” between
research and practice by generating expert consensus regarding the strategies that
organisations can implement to promote positive mental health at work.

Positive mental health and positive work


Positive mental health is a growing area of research. As distinct from mental
illness, positive mental health refers to “[…] a state of successful performance of
mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with people,
and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity” (United States
Department of Health and Human Services, 1999). A further distinction between mental
health and subjective well-being is made by Keyes (2002), who argues that subjective
well-being is a symptom of positive mental health, rather than its core component.
Positive mental health comprises both cognitive and social dimensions and is
associated with higher degrees of functioning in multiple life domains.
The benefits of positive mental health have been demonstrated across both work
and non-work domains. Individuals reporting positive mental health experience better
work performance, better social relationships and better physical health (e.g. Huppert,
2009; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Positive mental health among individuals has also been
associated with higher levels of job satisfaction and job performance (Wright et al.,
2007), which in turn predicts higher organisational performance and productivity
(Dutton et al., 2011), thus providing a business benefit rationale for promoting positive Positive
mental health among employees. mental health
Mentally healthy employees provide considerable benefits to their host
organisations. At the same time, positive work environments can contribute to
at work
employee mental health. Workplace practices that encourage a sense of engagement,
motivation, growth and learning can promote positive mental health (Dutton et al.,
2011). Similarly, workplace practices that seriously consider factors such as job design, 413
work relationships and group processes, organisational systems, work-life balance and
the psychosocial work environment will all contribute to a mentally healthy workplace
(Harvey et al., 2014). Initiatives to promote employee mental health therefore can be
seen as a wise investment for organisations.

Enhancing positive mental health at work


There is a considerable amount of academic literature that advocates the use of positive
psychology interventions to enhance well-being at work (Meyers et al., 2013).
Positive psychology interventions typically use strength-based methods, which aim to
identify and enhance what is being done well, rather than trying to identify and fix
what is “wrong” in an individual, group or organisation (Schaufeli and Bakker, 2004).
Intervention strategies that have been used in workplaces include positive leadership
training (Cameron, 2008), solution-focussed coaching (Grant et al., 2011) and
appreciative inquiry, which involves asking positive questions in order to strengthen
individual and group potential and create change (Cantore and Cooperrider, 2013).
A recent systematic review of 15 positive psychology interventions in organisations
concluded that most led to significant improvements in employee well-being (e.g. in
positive psychological capital, a core construct comprised of four commonly known
positive psychological states including self-efficacy, optimism, hope and resilience)
(Meyers et al., 2013). However, the vast majority of the interventions included in the
review were aimed at the level of the individual, identifying what individual employees
can do to improve their own positive mental health, rather than what an organisation
might do to influence employee mental health more broadly.
Research evidence regarding what organisational approaches might be effective in
enhancing employee mental health is limited. One example of a positive mental health
intervention that operated at the team and organisational level implemented a positive
psychology leadership-based intervention which led to improvements in employee
positivity, as well as employee performance (Avey et al., 2011). Moreover, case studies
have shown that changes that encourage job sharing, part-time work, working from home
arrangements and telework led to employees feeling a greater sense of alignment with the
organisation’s values and vision (The Canadian Mental Health Association, 2015).

A growing gap between research and practice


The benefits of positive mental health are well known in white collar occupations.
Practitioners frequently implement initiatives at the team and organisational level to
promote more effective working practices, high-performing teams and employees who
utilise their strengths to achieve. Despite the encouraging initial results of
organisationally focussed positive mental health interventions, the available evidence
provides little direction for organisations who wish to implement their own initiatives.
On the other hand, the wealth of knowledge that practitioners hold may not be captured
in the academic literature. The gap between practitioners and researchers may lead to a
IJWHM lack of workplace-informed research. Similarly, the focus on best practice may not
9,4 adequately capture what is feasible in a real-life workplace. In order to ensure effective
research translation, the integration of practice-based evidence and evidence-based
practice is therefore required.

Aims of the research


414 In this context, assessing workplace expert consensus offers a way of bringing together
available research evidence and best practice in order to enable recommendations and
decisions to be made. The most commonly used consensus process is the
Delphi method, which the research team has previously applied to the development
of guidelines for organisations wishing to better prevent and manage mental health
problems in their employees (Reavley et al., 2012, 2014).
The aim of the study was to develop guidelines for organisations wishing to implement
workplace-based strategies that individuals, teams and organisations can use to promote
positive mental health in and through the workplace. The guidelines are intended to be
used to facilitate the development of policy and practice in the workplace setting.

Method
There are various formal methods available to measure expert consensus in health
research. The Delphi method selected for this study is a widely used and accepted
methodology for achieving consensus of opinion. It is designed as a group
communication process in which relevant groups make private ratings of agreement
with a series of statements ( Jorm, 2015).
A systematic search of lay and scientific literature was conducted to collate practical,
actionable strategies that individuals, teams and organisations could use to promote
positive workplace mental health. Once strategies were collated from the systematic
search, they were presented to two panels for rating. There was a panel of practitioners
and a panel of expert employers/employees of positive organisations. This study was
approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee of the Deakin University.

Panel formation
The research team recruited two panels including:
• Panel 1: practitioners (including psychologists, organisational psychologists,
academics, occupational/organisational health consultants and senior advisors
in creating healthy workplaces); and
• Panel 2: expert employer representatives and employees (including directors,
general managers, employers and employees of organisations that have been
recognised for promoting positive mental health and well-being in the workplace).
Participants from both Panels 1 and 2 were recruited via an e-mail invitation from the
project funder SuperFriend, a mental health promotion foundation that aids “all profit to
member” superannuation funds in promoting and supporting the mental health and
well-being of their members through the workplace, or via invitation by members of
the research team. The e-mail invitation outlined eligibility criteria and a description of the
study, including requirements of participants and the voluntary nature of involvement.
Eligibility criteria for potential panellists included having an excellent understanding of
promoting workplace positive mental health by providing meaningful work, opportunities
for social connection and achievement, promoting the positive aspects of work and
providing education on activities that promote mental health. Additionally, the eligibility Positive
criteria included experts in the field of positive psychology (e.g. identified through mental health
publication), experts identified as market leaders in positive mental well-being in the
workplace and experts who had been award nominees and recipients for positive mental
at work
health and well-being (e.g. Martin Seligman Award for Health and Well-being, Best Places
to Work Award and The WorkSafe Health and Safety Award).
Methods used to recruit practitioners included the use of LinkedIn to identify 415
experts (e.g. through groups such as the Psychologically Healthy Workplaces Network,
Psychologically Healthy Workplaces Australia, Positive Psychology at Work,
Organisational Psychology in Australia, Health and Work Productivity Portal and
Employee Well-being), and through identification of organisations who had promoted
and implemented strategies to improve employee “well-being” as well as “positive
psychology” or “positive well-being” strategies. Potential panellists contacted were also
invited to recommend others who fit the eligibility criteria and who might be interested
in participating.
The average number of participants in a Delphi panel is between 15 and 60 in order to
ensure that no one participant can have an overly significant influence on the outcome,
and to allow a reliable consensus to be reached (Hasson et al., 2000). Accordingly, we
sought a minimum of 30 in each panel of this study. Participants who were screened for
their eligibility criteria were sent an e-mail invitation to participate in the Delphi survey.
Recruited panellists were largely from Australia (n ¼ 58), with additional respondents
from the USA (n ¼ 8), UK (n ¼ 1) and Canada (n ¼ 5). Panel membership totalled 72, with
36 practitioners and 36 expert employers/employees. Representatives from organisations
included a cross-section of industries and included both large and small/medium
enterprises. In total, 60 per cent of panel members were female (58 per cent of
practitioners and 61 per cent of expert employers/employees). The median age was
47 years for the practitioners and 42.5 years for the expert employers/employees.

Questionnaire development and administration


A systematic literature search was conducted of books, websites and journal articles
for strategies related to promoting positive mental health in the workplace (e.g. positive
leadership behaviours, meaningfulness at work, job crafting). The researchers used
existing research literature that explicitly described specific actions that individuals,
teams, managers and organisations can take to promote positive workplace mental
health and well-being in the workplace. This included developing workplaces and jobs
that have the capacity to contribute positively to mental health, both directly (e.g. by
providing meaningful work, opportunities for social connection and achievement and
promoting the positive aspects of work) and indirectly – (e.g. providing education on
activities that promote mental health). Any literature that could not be developed into
an actionable strategy for promoting positive mental health and well-being in the
workplace was excluded along with any strategies that were explicitly (and only)
related to the prevention of mental health illness in the workplace (e.g. the provision of
Employee Assistance Program services for mental illness).
Literature was identified via a comprehensive search in the following databases:
PubMed, Embase, The Cochrane Library PsychInfo, Psych and Behavioural Sciences,
Business Source Complete, Econlit, GlobalHealth, MEDLINE Complete, CINAHL
(nursing and allied health) and Academic Search Complete. Relevant journal articles
were located on the aforementioned databases using the keyword search terms:
(Psychosocial health OR “positive psychology”) AND (“positive organisational behaviour”
IJWHM OR “positive organisational scholarship”) AND (“psychologically healthy workplaces” OR
9,4 “workplace well-being” OR “positive organisation”) AND (employ*) AND (stress*) AND
(leader*) AND (“appreciative enquiry”). The research literature was supplemented with a
comprehensive search in Google engines (www.google.com.au; www.google.ca; www.
google.co.uk). The following search terms were entered into each: (positive interventions
OR positive activities) AND (guidelines) AND (promote OR develop OR enhance OR
416 recovery OR growth OR work) AND (work OR employ OR organisation OR job OR leader)
AND (positive organisational behaviour OR positive organisational scholarship) and
(psychologically healthy workplaces OR positive psychology). The first 50 sites from each
Google search were reviewed for statements about how organisations can promote
positive mental health in the workplace. The research team reached saturation after
reviewing the first 50 sites of the Google search. The research team followed any links that
appeared on these web pages and seemed to contain relevant information. Table I
provides an overview of the sources collated during the literature search.
Suggestions for how organisations can promote positive mental health in the
workplace from 34 websites, 20 journal articles and five books were obtained. A full list
can be obtained from the research team on request. The information was gathered from
these sources and analysed before being compiled into a list of individual strategies.
This list of strategies was then presented to a working group comprising the research
team and representatives from SuperFriend. There were research and practice experts
in the field of workplace and positive mental health who were a part of the working
group. The working group screened strategies to ensure that they fell in line with the
definition of strategies that organisations could implement to promote positive mental
health in the workplace. Additionally, strategies needed to be comprehensible, have a
consistent format and remain as faithful as possible to the original wording. The
survey content was also informed by a small number of strategies suggested by the
working group. This was to ensure that any gaps in the survey content were filled.
After several draft surveys, the group produced a list of 278 strategies that formed the
first survey sent to panellists. An example strategy included “employees should make
efforts to build respectful relationships with their team members”.
The first round survey was organised into 13 sections or groupings (see Table II).
Each section was a thematic grouping that was developed through the systematic
literature search and then refined by the working group comprised of the research team
and representatives from SuperFriend. The introduction to the survey provided an

Literature search avenues Number of sources

Grey literature (websites and reports) 438


Grey literature followed through links on websites and reports 100
Journal articles 157
Journal articles identified from a search of the reference lists of previously
identified articles 16
Books 12
Total number of sources returned from literature search and reviewed 723
Total number of sources utilised to inform final guidelines 59
This includes
Table I. 34 websites and reports
Literature search 20 journal articles
sources 5 books
Sections Number of strategies
Positive
mental health
1. Developing a mental health and well-being strategy 7 at work
2. Creating a work environment that promotes positive mental health 26
3. Positive leadership behaviours 63
4. Communicating effectively 12
5. Work-life balance 26
6. Promoting a sense of belonging and social well-being at work 14 417
7. Meaningful work 15
8. Designing jobs to promote positive mental health 51 Table II.
9. Promoting employee strengths 22 Round 1 survey
10. Noticing and appreciating positive work experiences 11 sections and number
11. Restoring physical and psychological resources that are used at work 13 of strategies (total of
12. Coaching and mentoring 7 278 identified
13. Positive mental health and well-being programmes 10 systematic search)

overview of the study and reiterated the voluntary and anonymous nature of the survey.
It was also stated in the introduction that completion of the survey will signify that
informed consent has been gained. Panellists were asked to rate the importance of each
strategy. The rating scale was “Essential”, “Important”, “Depends”, “Unimportant”,
“Should not be included”,“Don’t know”. Panel members had the opportunity to suggest
additional strategies or make suggestions to improve current strategies in comment
boxes during the first round of surveys. These suggested strategies were included in the
subsequent rounds for all panellists to rate. Each panellist received a summary of group
ratings after the first two survey rounds. This enabled panellists to determine whether or
not they wanted to change or maintain their ratings. Overall, a list of statements that
received substantial consensus in ratings (or essential or important) was developed, while
statements that received low or conflicting ratings were discarded.

Statistical analysis
Following the completion of each round, the results from the survey were analysed by
obtaining percentages of agreement/disagreement with each strategy, according to
each panel (i.e. one rating for Panel 1 and one rating for Panel 2). The following criteria
were used to accept, re-rate or reject a strategy.
Criteria for accepting a strategy. If at least 80 per cent of both panels rated a strategy
as essential or important as a guideline for organisations promoting positive workplace
mental health, it was included in the guidelines.
Criteria for re-rating a strategy. Panel members were asked to re-rate a strategy in
the following survey round if:
• in total, 80 per cent or more of the panel members in one group rated a strategy
as essential or important, but o 80 per cent the other panel members rated it as
essential or important (e.g. 85 per cent of Panel 1 rated a strategy as essential or
important, but only 70 per cent of Panel 2 rated the strategy as essential or
important); and
• in total, 70-79 per cent of panel members in both groups rated a strategy as either
essential or important.
Criteria for rejecting a strategy. Any strategies that did not meet the above conditions
were excluded.
IJWHM Results
9,4 The participation rate of those who took part in all three survey rounds was
58.3 per cent (61.1 per cent practitioners and 55.6 per cent expert employers/employees).
See Table III for the number of panel members who completed each round.
As Figure 1 illustrates, across the three rounds, 220/278 strategies were rated as
essential or important by at least 80 per cent of the two panels.
418

Panel Round 1 (n) Round 2 (n) (% of round 1) Round 3 (n) (% of round 1)


Table III.
Participant numbers 1. Practitioners 36 32 (88.9) 22 (61.1)
for each round 2. Expert employers/employees 36 28 (77.8) 20 (55.6)
of the survey Total 72 60 (85.7) 42 (58.3)

Round 1
Questionnaire
(278 strategies)

Strategies to be New strategies to Strategies to be


Strategies to be
re-rated be added excluded
included (n =155)
(n = 31) (n = 71) (n = 93)

Round 2
Questionnaire
(102 strategies)

Strategies to be Strategies to be Strategies to be


included re-rated excluded
(n = 55) (n = 29) (n =18)

Round 3
Questionnaire
(29 strategies)

Figure 1. Strategies to be Strategies to be


Overview of included excluded
(n =10) (n =19)
strategies endorsed
for final guidelines,
excluded, created
and re-rated in each Total strategies Total strategies
included excluded
round of the survey (n = 220) (n =130)
Table IV outlines the final guideline sections and number of strategies that Positive
were endorsed for each section. Additionally, two example strategies have been mental health
included for each section.
at work
Differences in ratings between panels
There were some key areas in which views either aligned or tended to differ between
panels with regards to the 278 strategies. This section outlines strategies that received 419
the highest ratings and strategies that received the lowest ratings from both panels;
notably higher or notably lower ratings from practitioners compared to expert
employers/employees and strategies that received notably higher or notably lower
ratings from expert employers/employees than practitioners.
The highest levels of agreement. The strategies that received the highest level from
both panels fell under the main themes of implementing the mental health and
well-being strategy; developing a work environment that promotes positive mental
health; providing training in leadership skills; reward and recognition; encouraging
respectful interactions; providing constructive feedback; providing clear direction;
managing difficult situations effectively; promoting a sense of belonging; settings goals
to facilitate growth and development; and identifying and applying strengths.
Lowest levels of agreement. The strategies that received the lowest levels of
agreement from both panels fell under the main themes of socialising with colleagues;
holding retreats and brainstorming sessions; sponsoring services to assist
employee in balancing between work and other aspects of life; flexible work
arrangements; allowing employees to move desks for social interactions; job
crafting; strengths-based performance appraisal processes; and savouring positive
work experiences and strategies to restore physical and psychological resources
used at work.
Comparison between practitioners and expert employers/employees. Strategies that
received higher levels of agreement from practitioners compared to expert employers/
employees included those relating to: implementing the mental health and well-being
strategy; promoting the meaningful aspects of work; adapting tasks to be more
in line with employees’ values or strengths; job crafting; flexible working
arrangements; savouring positive work experiences and positive mental health and
well-being programmes.
Strategies that received notably lower ratings from practitioners than expert
employers/employees fell under the main themes of promoting altruistic behaviour;
effective communication; flexible work arrangements; promoting a sense of belonging
at work; promoting meaningful aspects of work; job crafting; identifying and applying
strengths; savouring positive work experiences; mentoring; and finally positive mental
health and well-being initiatives.
Comparison between expert employers/employees and practitioners. The strategies
that received notably higher levels of agreement from expert employers/employees
than practitioners fell under the main themes of altruistic behaviour among employees;
flexible work arrangements; goal setting; promoting a sense of belonging in the
workplace; recruitment; savouring positive work experiences; employees identifying
and applying their strengths; support for mentoring programmes; and positive mental
health and well-being programmes.
A number of strategies that received notably lower ratings from expert employers/
employees than practitioners fell under the main themes of implementing the mental
IJWHM Number of
9,4 Sections strategies
1. Mental health and well-being strategy 9
Example strategies
Senior leaders should assess employees’ perceptions of the positive aspects of their
420 work and the working environment and conduct a needs assessment in line with
evidence-based guidelines
A working group should be established and made responsible for implementation
and continuous improvement of the mental health and well-being strategy
2. Developing a work environment that promotes positive mental health 40
Example strategies
Managers should encourage respectful interactions between people by role
modelling positive and respectful relationships
Employees should show genuine care and concern by checking that others are
feeling okay, showing understanding of the pressures they are under and
responding with sensitivity to their emotional concerns
3. Positive leadership styles 65
Example strategies
Managers should make an effort to involve employees in problem solving and
decision making
Managers should aim to provide negative feedback in a positive way ensuring that
the employee feels validated by using statements that emphasise flexible, two-way
problem solving
4. Communicating effectively 16
Example strategies
Senior leaders should also provide managers with access to additional support (e.g.
training, coaching, feedback) to develop their communication skills as necessary
Managers should provide regular, ongoing opportunities for employees to give
feedback to management
5. Designing jobs to promote positive mental health 20
Example strategies
Managers should ensure jobs are designed to promote positive mental health by
Allowing appropriate levels of self-direction and autonomy
ensuring alternative work arrangements are adequately resourced
6. Recruitment and selection of employees 7
Example strategies
Managers should use competency-based recruitment and selection practices to
recruit employees that fit the role
Managers should ensure that there is a good fit between employees’ interpersonal
and emotional competencies and the requirement of the position they hold
7. Supporting and developing employees 39
Example strategies
Table IV. Managers should assist employees to develop new strengths at work by having
Final guideline conversations about areas in which employees would like to develop strengths
Employees should identify and apply their strengths at work by actively reflecting
sections and
on what they are good at
number of strategies
(total of 220
endorsed strategies) (continued )
Number of
Positive
Sections strategies mental health
at work
8. Balancing work and life demands 19
Example strategies
Managers should seek to accommodate reasonable requests from employees for
flexible workplace arrangements
421
Employees should ensure that they use any flexible work arrangements so that they
can enhance their own positive mental health
9. Positive mental health and well-being initiatives 5
Example strategies
Senior leaders also should provide employees with a variety of positive mental
health and well-being programmes that are consistent with the mental health and
well-being strategy
Senior leaders should themselves be active participants in these programmes and
should also support public initiatives that raise awareness of positive mental health
and well-being in the workplace (e.g. mental health week, mindfulness training) Table IV.

health and well-being strategy; promoting a sense of belonging; promoting the


meaningful aspects of work; job crafting; developing employee strengths; flexible work
arrangements; and savouring positive work experiences.

Discussion
Overall, 220 of 278 positive workplace strategies identified from a systematic literature
search were endorsed by both panels of experts. Endorsed strategies were developed
into a set of open-access web-published guidelines to serve as a resource for promoting
positive mental health in the workplace and are available at: www.superfriend.com.au/
uploads/page/533/Promoting-Positive-Mental-Health-in-the-Workplace-Guidelines-for-
organisations.pdf. These guidelines are intended to be used by organisations and
people in a wide range of roles, as well as individuals operating in policy, practice or
research settings.
Most of the 278 strategies presented to the expert panels were endorsed as essential
or important with a high level of agreement between panels (220/278 ¼ 79 per cent).
At the organisational level, considerable agreement was seen between panels for the
development of a mental health and well-being strategy, and specifically for the
inclusion of positive mental health and well-being provisions within this strategy.
Workplace health promotion research has highlighted that a major barrier to the
effectiveness of mental health initiatives is the gap that exists between the strategy
planning and implementation phases (LaMontagne and Noblet, 2009; LaMontagne
et al., 2012). The results from this study confirm the importance of effective means of
implementation. Specifically, panel members from both expert groups were consistent
in their views on the need to ensure adequate support and resources for the
implementation of a positive mental health strategy. Strategies including the visible
involvement of middle and senior managers and the provision of training and
development for employees and managers were highly endorsed.
The role of communication in promoting positive mental health was prominent
throughout the strategies that received endorsement. Consistent with the literature on
IJWHM employee voice (Morrison, 2011), effective communication between team members and
9,4 between managers and employees was viewed as essential or important for the
development and continued improvement of positive mental health in the workplace.
Particular practical strategies that received high-level endorsement from both panels
were those emphasising the communication of activities, issues and developments
within the organisation as well as those reflecting the use of multiple (and appropriate)
422 communication channels to advocate positive work behaviours, clarifying role
requirements and encouraging open dialogue between managers and employees.
Previous guidelines relating to the prevention of mental illnesses also consider
organisational communication an essential component of a healthy workplace (Reavley
et al., 2014), thus these findings together reiterate the importance of organisational
communication for overall employee well-being.
The importance of authenticity in the workplace was also a prominent feature of the
final guidelines. The finding that both panels tended to rate strategies regarding the
authentic actions of managers and employees as equally important is consistent with
this being a central concept in the positive organisational behaviour literature (Avoilio
and Garnder, 2006). However, previous evidence has rarely indicated specific actions
and activities that can be generalised to multiple organisational contexts. The findings
of this study indicate that authenticity should specifically be promoted within the
workplace through values-based goal setting and by ensuring that there is an
organisational culture that openly promotes behaviour motivated by personal values
and convictions, rather than through the motivation to achieve status, reward or
personal benefits.
Supportive leadership behaviours have been linked to both the reduced prevalence
of mental health problems (van Dierendonck et al., 2004) as well as the promotion of
employee capabilities, optimal performance and satisfaction (Mayfield and Mayfield,
2004). Consistent with the known benefits of positive and capable organisational
leaders, the results from this study emphasised leadership strategies that were viewed
as important for the development of positive mental health. In particular, leaders
adapting their style to suit the needs and preferences of the employee, and involving
employees in decision making, problem solving and the development of goals were
highly endorsed. Many strategies were drawn directly from the literature regarding
effective managerial behaviour and as such emphasised the role of feedback,
recognition and rewards (Reavley, 2013).
Panellists were encouraged to comment after the completion of each round of
surveys and to indicate where additional strategies would be relevant for the
promotion of positive mental health. In line with the vast majority of the academic
literature surrounding positive workplace mental health, the first round survey of this
study was heavily focussed on the role of senior and middle managers within
organisations. The panellists made numerous comments highlighting the role
that employees themselves have in promoting positive workplaces; accordingly
subsequent rounds of surveys incorporated employee responsibilities. High levels
of agreement between panels with respect to those responsibilities that are
shared between managers and employees included the identification and
application of individual strengths; both panels believed that it was essential
that employees as well as managers were responsible for reflecting on what an
individual’s strengths are and for identifying where these might be best utilised.
Additionally, both panels believed that a positive culture should be fostered by
role modelling a positive approach in the workplace, and also through employees’
behaviours (e.g. through the expression of gratitude or noticing and appreciating Positive
positive work experiences). mental health
What was not endorsed?
at work
Approximately one in five strategies was not endorsed by members of either panel. Of
note were those strategies relating to socialising and encouraging personal interaction.
A number of strategies including those relating to holding retreats or team-building 423
sessions were rated as being unimportant to positive mental health or strategies that
should not be included. Similarly, panels did not endorse strategies relating to managers
socialising with staff as a way to demonstrate their care for team members. The
provision of rewards and recognition is generally noted as a key strategy to demonstrate
appreciation for employee contributions. Importantly, the panellists in this study viewed
recognition and rewards as highly individual and some forms of reward were unlikely to
suit all employees. In particular, those forms of reward that involved public recognition
were not endorsed. Similarly, where items referred to employee restoration outside of
work, there were low levels of endorsement for those strategies that were overly
prescriptive (e.g. encouraging employees to take multiple short periods of leave rather
than one long holiday). To achieve a positive climate, strategies that were endorsed
included those relating to the development of a “positive work environment” such as
expressing pride in team members when they achieve, viewing mistakes as opportunities
to learn and being appropriately positive about team members. Accordingly, these
should be a focus for improving the social and interpersonal elements of the workplace.

Differences between panels


Differences in perceived importance of strategies were identified when comparisons
were made between the ratings provided by each panel. The most notable differences
were identified where strategies referred to conducting a needs assessment to determine
the organisation’s specific needs around positive mental health and engaging experts
where possible to assist in the identification of target areas for intervention. Specifically,
92 per cent of practitioners rated the conducting of a needs assessment as essential or
important whilst only 78 per cent of expert employers/employees considered this as
essential or important. Similarly, practitioners considered the involvement of external
consultants as an important element of the needs assessment process (78 per cent) whilst
expert employers/employee indicated that this was largely unimportant (58 per cent). The
differences in ratings between these panels may be due to self-interest on the one hand,
and the costs of external consultants on the other. The panel of expert employers/
employees included those from multiple industries as well as those from small-to-medium
enterprises through to larger corporations, thus whilst some panellists may view the
expense of consultants as a viable solution within their context, this is not true of all
workplaces. Critically, conducting a needs assessment to determine the organisation’s
needs regarding positive mental health is an endorsed strategy. However, the use of
external expertise is limited to those who have access to means. The role of community
resources and peak bodies such as government agencies, insurance providers and trade
unions should therefore be considered to provide resources and support to assist
organisations to manage the assessment, development and implementation of mental
well-being strategies.
Job crafting and flexible work arrangements were areas where notable differences in
panels were seen. With respect to job crafting, 83 per cent of practitioners either rated
as essential or important those strategies that encouraged managers to look for
IJWHM opportunities for employees to actively shape their job tasks to best suit their specific
9,4 strengths or values. Only 44 per cent of expert employers/employees agreed. Similarly,
86 per cent of practitioners endorsed job crafting that involved providing employees
with opportunities to take advantage of any tasks that they see as meaningful that
were already part of their jobs (e.g. by allocating more time, energy and attention to
them). Only 56 per cent of expert employees/employers group agreed. The pathway
424 through which job crafting develops more positive and health-enhancing organisations
operates largely through improved person-job fit and work motivation (Demerouti and
Bakker, 2014). However, participants noted the difficulties in matching the scientific
literature to the practicalities of organisational life. Panellists tended to reject the notion
of job crafting on the basis of the perceived tension between employee health and
well-being and the organisation’s performance. Job crafting strategies that were
endorsed by the expert employer/employee panel were those relating to the cognitive
(as opposed to behavioural) elements of job crafting. Cognitive restructuring enhances
the perceived value of a role by encouraging employees to re-evaluate the
meaningfulness of their particular job, the significance of their position in the
organisation or the way that they contribute to the overall organisational mission
(Demerouti and Bakker, 2014). The panel members of this study agreed that to enhance
positive mental health in workplaces, supporting all employees to engage in cognitive
crafting of their role could provide practical benefits.
Offering flexible work arrangements within the workplace tended to receive higher
levels of endorsement from practitioners than from expert employers/employees.
A high level of agreement from both panels was received where panellists agreed that
managers should be aware that flexible work arrangements can enhance an employees’
sense of control in the workplace and that these arrangements can promote positive
mental health in the workplace. Both panels also tended to agree that managers should
seek to accommodate reasonable requests for flexible work arrangements. Differences
were identified where flexible work arrangements included specific references to part-time
arrangements or “flexi-place” working (e.g. working from home) were made and where
managers should seek to make flexible work arrangements available to all employees
regardless of their role. The differences were largely a result of the varying nature of work
roles. A number of panellists indicated that whilst flexible work arrangements are an
identified strategy that can enhance individual well-being and positive mental health, they
may not be equally available to all employees simply due to the nature of their role.
Practitioners tended to agree with expert employers/employees that some forms of flexible
work arrangements, whilst a positive approach, may not be relevant for all employees.
Opportunities for flexible work arrangements including the purchasing of additional
leave, job sharing or phased retirement were not endorsed by either panel.
Previous studies examining the barriers to implementation of workplace health
interventions such as flexible work arrangements suggest that managerial attitudes
towards such interventions are frequently cited as a major consideration (Powell and
Mainiero, 1999). The finalised guidelines resulting from this study encourage
employers to consider implementing flexible work arrangements to the extent feasible.
Previous studies have identified that even where organisations have formalised policies
regarding flexible work arrangements, ultimately the decision making is deferred to
middle management to allow such policies to take effect in practice (Kelly and Kalev,
2006). Supporting managers to realise the benefits of flexible work arrangements
policies and to encourage and validate their use should be a central component of any
implementation phase.
Limitations Positive
This study sought to provide value to employers, practitioners, policy makers and mental health
researchers working to promote positive mental health in the workplace. The choice of a
Delphi consensus methodology was made to ensure that the perspectives of multiple
at work
stakeholders were considered when determining how we might advance the field of
positive workplace mental health. Notwithstanding the strengths of the research, a number
of limitations should also be considered. Some panellists stated that they experienced 425
difficulty in rating some of the strategies due to the many different organisational
environments in which they might apply. This highlighted a limitation of the study related
to the difficulty of applying some of the strategies included in the guidelines to different
organisational contexts such as small or medium-sized organisations where expertise,
resources and other contextual factors may be substantially different to larger
organisations. Another limitation of the study relates to the possibility that whilst
consensus-based approaches tend to be consistent with evidence-based approaches, this is
not necessarily the case. Despite this, consensus-based approaches provide a view of what
is considered to be best practice, as well as what is feasible and organisations might be
ready to implement. Finally, the guidelines represent a first step towards the identification
of strategies that organisations can use to promote positive mental health; as such, the
Guidelines should be seen as a list of possibilities for organisations to select from and tailor
or adapt to their circumstances, rather than as an intervention plan per se. Future research
to develop specific guidance for organisations on needs assessment, prioritisation,
intervention planning and implementation would add further value.

Conclusions
There is a considerable amount of academic literature that advocates the use of positive
workplace practices, yet limited guidance for organisations on how to do it. This study
makes a unique contribution to the workplace mental health literature by reporting on
the development of guidelines that specifically focus on promoting positive mental
health in the workplace. The majority of strategies identified from a systematic search
of the relevant literature were endorsed by the two expert panels surveyed. It is hoped
that the results of this study will support organisations and individuals to take
practical steps towards the promotion of positive mental health in the workplace
setting, as well as informing future intervention research in this growing area.

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Corresponding author
Lauren J. Davenport can be contacted at: lauren.purnell@deakin.edu.au

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