Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Mental health and workplace perspectives
Wednesday, 05/Jun/2019:
11:30am - 1:00pm

Session Chair: Dwayne Van Eerd
Session Chair: Emil Sundstrup
Location: Room 95

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Workplace Practices and Policies to Support Workers with Depression: Evidence from Workplace Parties.

Dwayne Van Eerd1, Kim Cullen1, Emma Irvin1, Morgane Le Pouésard1, Judy Geary2, Anita Dubay3

1Institute for Work & Health, Canada; 2Ontario Shores for Mental Health Sciences, Whitby, Canada; 3Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Toronto, Canada

Introduction: The workplace burden associated with depression is extensive. Workers with depression lose more health-related productive time, have higher rates of absenteeism and short-term disability, and experience higher rates of job turnover than those without depression. Our objective was to synthesize evidence from practice (workplace policies and practices) and experiences from workplace audiences within the context of the scientific evidence.

Methods: Our study sample consisted of workers, managers, and consultants in workplaces from our contact database (approximately 700 OHS contacts across Canada willing to be contacted for research). Data collection included a web-based survey, focus groups, and interviews with stakeholder representatives from multiple sectors. We collected information about workplace practices and policies to prevent productivity losses, promote stay-at-work, and support return-to-work for workers with depression. The synthesis considered practice evidence gathered from stakeholders and combined that with evidence from the scientific literature.

Results: Results (n=475, 66% workers, 23% managers/consultants) revealed a willingness among participants to share their experiences with depression and work. Workers reported practices related to non-judgemental listening and external supports were most helpful to them. Managers/consultants suggested non-judgemental listening and employee assistance programs were most helpful in supporting workers. However, workers often felt workplace support was lacking and reported non-supportive supervisors as a key barrier to receiving needed support. Managers indicated a lack of training and knowledge about depression were the main barriers to providing support to workers. Workers did not feel simply providing information was helpful whereas managers often did.

Conclusion: Results reveal the importance of non-judgemental listening as a workplace support for depression. However, responses revealed workers and managers did not have similar experiences of workplace support. Synthesizing this practice evidence along with the research evidence will be helpful to guide policies and practices to support workers with depression.

Factors Influencing Worker Disclosure of Mental Illness to Managers

Carolyn S Dewa1, Jaap Van Weeghel2, Margot C.W. Joosen2, Petra C. Gronholm3, Evelien P.M. Brouwers2

1University of California, Davis, United States of America; 2Tilburg University, The Netherlands; 3London School of Economics, UK

Background: Recent systematic literature reviews indicate there are effective work disability interventions for mental illnesses. However, stigma can be a barrier to accessing these effective interventions. Fear of stigma’s concomitant prejudice and discrimination can inhibit workers from telling their manager they need help. Thus, it may also be important to develop effective interventions addressing workplace stigma. To identify important targets for these interventions, this study addresses the question, what factors influence worker disclosure of a mental health problem to their managers?

Methods: Data are from a nationally representative sample of 1246 working Dutch adults who completed a web-based survey in February 2018. They were asked three sets of questions focusing on: (1) Would you tell your manager if you developed a mental health problem? (2) For what reasons would you disclose/not disclose the problem? (3) What would change your decision?

Results: About 74% of respondents would tell their managers about a mental health problem; 32% indicated nothing could change their decision. However, 51% and 28% suggested they could be influenced by those in their networks and their managers, respectively. In contrast, 26% of respondents reported they would not tell their managers; 70% of these indicated their decision was influenced by internal factors (e.g., embarrassment, privacy) while 63% were motivated by external factors (e.g., loss of career, unfavorable treatment). About 36% thought they would not change their negative decision while 42% and 39% pointed to their networks and managers, respectively as influential in a potential change.

Conclusion: These results indicate managers, organizational policies as well as workers’ families, colleagues, and treatment providers play significant roles in work-related disclosure decisions. This suggests stigma will not be successfully addressed through worker education alone. Rather, effective interventions should also help managers, colleagues, and treatment providers understand their roles in combating workplace stigma.

Employees’ Knowledge, Attitudes And Intended Behavior Regarding Coworkers With Mental Health Problems

Evelien P.M. Brouwers1, Gaia Sampogna2, Claire Henderson3, Carolyn Dewa4, Jaap Van Weeghel1

1Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Department Tranzo, Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands; 2Department of Psychiatry, University of Naples SUN, Naples, Italy; 34 King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, UK.; 4Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, Davis, USA.


In many countries, participation and reintegration of people with mental health problems (MHP) in the workforce is problematic. Compared to workers with physical conditions, they have a higher risk for sick leave, early retirement, disability leave, and disruption in workforce participation. The extent to which workplace stigma plays a role in this problem has been under researched. Research questions of this study are: (a) How do employees think about coworkers with MHP?; (b) What is their willingness to spend time and effort on supporting coworkers with such health problems?; (c) which variables explain the social distance to coworkers with mental health problems in the workplace?


In February 2018, a cross-sectional survey was carried out among a nationally representative internet panel of Dutch employees. A total of 1246 respondents filled out the questionnaire (response rate 74,6%). Concepts measured were knowledge, attitude and (intended) behavior.

A total of 39,9% preferred not to have a close colleague with MHP, and 61,2% preferred not to work for a manager with MHP. The extent to which they were willing to spend extra time supporting a coworker with MHP depended on whether they liked the coworker (78,3% agreed), or if the coworker could clearly communicate what s(he) needed (87,6%). Main concerns were: the coworker could not handle work (44,7%), the employee would have to take over the coworkers’ work (32,9%), or the coworker would not know how to help (37,6%). Factors that explain social distance will be presented at the conference.


Negative attitudes towards coworkers with mental health problems are highly prevalent amongst Dutch employees. The findings of the present study regarding knowledge, attitudes, and behavior are important for future studies on sustainable employability of this group and the development of anti-stigma intervention studies.

Supervisors’ Knowledge, Attitude And Experiences Of Mental Health Problems In The Workplace

Margot Joosen1,2, Marjolein Lugtenberg1, Carolyn Dewa3, Jaap van Weeghel1,4, Evelien Brouwers1

1Tranzo, Scientific Center for Care and Welfare, Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands; 2Department of Human Resource Studies, Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands; 3Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, Davis, USA.; 4Kenniscentrum Phrenos, Utrecht, The Netherlands


Given the high prevalence of mental health problems (MHP) among workers, organizations have become increasingly concerned about adequately addressing MHP in the workplace. Particularly, supervisors may have prominent roles in providing support to employees with MHP.


This study aims to examine supervisor mental health-related knowledge, attitudes and experiences. In addition, it explores the factors associated with supervisors’ willingness to invest in their workers with MHP.


A cross-sectional survey was conducted in a representative panel of Dutch supervisors (N=976), derived from the LISS panel (Longitudinal Internet Studies for Social Sciences). Data on three topics were gathered: knowledge of mental health in the workplace, and attitude and experiences with employees with MHP. Descriptive analyses were used to determine knowledge, attitude and experiences. Multiple regression analyses were conducted to investigate which factors predict their willingness to invest in workers with MHP.


A total of 612 participants between the ages of 19 and 66 responded (62.7%). With respect to knowledge, supervisors correctly believe that 21.1% of the employees in their organization will be affected with mental health problems. However, 37,4% did not feel he/she had sufficient knowledge to support those workers. As for their attitude, supervisors reported their willingness to spend extra time and energy to depends mostly on whether the employee clearly says what he/she needs (85,3%). 51.2 percent of the supervisors had favorable experiences with dealing with employees with MHP.


Despite being aware of MHP, half of supervisors had favorable experiences with employees with MHP. However, our study shows that they do not feel sufficiently equipped to manage employees with MHP. Policy should aim at assisting supervisors and employees to deal with MHP to maximize supervisors’ willingness to invest in their workers with mentally health problems.

Line Managers’ Attitudes towards and Willingness to Hire People with Mental Health Problems.

Kim Janssens1, Margot Joosen1, Jaap van Weeghel1,2, Carolyn Dewa3, Claire Henderson4, Evelien Brouwers1

1Tranzo, Scientific Center for Care and Welfare, Tilburg School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands; 2Kenniscentrum Phrenos, the Netherlands; 3Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, Davis, USA; 4King’s College London Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, UK

Background: Employment can be beneficial for health and well-being of people with mental health problems. However, among the unemployed, people with mental health problems are over-represented. One of the barriers to paid employment is workplace discrimination. Negative attitudes towards mental health problems by line managers could lead to a greater likelihood of unemployment among people with mental health problems. This study examines the attitudes of line managers towards (potential) employees with mental health problems.

Methods: Data were collected from a representative Dutch sample of 976 line managers participating in the Longitudinal Internet Studies for the Social Sciences (LISS) panel. The response rate was 69% (n = 670).

Results: In total, 64% of the responding line managers would not hire a job applicant with current mental health problems. Moreover, 30% indicated they did not want to hire a job applicant with a history of mental health problems. Reasons included concerns that the employee could not handle the work (55%), would eventually require long-term sickness absence (43%), could not be counted on (41%), the employee would negatively impact the workplace atmosphere (40%), or the manager do not know how to assist an employee with mental health problems (39%).

Conclusion: The majority ofline managers were not willing to hire job applicants with mental health problems because of many concerns about reliability and effects on the workplace atmosphere. Importantly, one third of line managers prefers not to hire a job applicant who has had mental health problems in the past. This indicates that even if the health problems are over, the stigma remains a barrier for work participation. Future studies should focus on interventions to improve line managers’ knowledge and attitudes towards workers with mental health problems as well as how to provide effective resources for managers if they do require assistance.

Challenges In Accommodating Mental And Physical Health Conditions: What Workplace Parties Are Saying.

Monique A.M. Gignac1, Julie Bowring1, Curtis Breslin1, Arif Jetha1, Dwayne Van Eerd1, Emma Irvin1, Renee-Louise Franche2, Peter Smith1, Emile Tompa1, William Shaw3, Dorcas Beaton1, Ron Saunders1

1Institute for Work & Health, Canada; 2Simon Fraser University; 3University of Connecticut

Objectives: Employers increasingly are asked to accommodate workers with episodic physical and mental health conditions (e.g., depression, arthritis, colitis). In addition to intermittent and unpredictable symptoms, signs of these conditions are often invisible to others. As a result, workplaces experience challenges in providing support and accommodations, particularly in light of privacy legislation. This study aimed to understand organizational perspectives on implementing work disability prevention practices and key issues in supporting workers with chronic, episodic conditions.

Methods: A convenience sample of workplace parties involved in disability management was recruited using community advertising and established contacts. Participants were interviewed using a semi-structured interview. Questions asked about disability management roles; challenges in implementing and monitoring accommodation and RTW plans; and personal, work, and environmental contextual factors. Interviews were transcribed, and two coders independently coded the transcripts using qualitative content analysis.

Results: Twenty-six participants (20 women; 6 men) were interviewed. They included disability managers (n=7), HR personnel (n=5), supervisors (n=6), labour lawyers (n=3); union representatives and others (n=5). Participants worked in a range of sectors. Themes raised by participants highlighted: i) organizational culture; ii) that message recipients are not static processors of information, but subjectively evaluate and affectively process and respond to verbal and non-verbal information from workers; iii) complexity surrounding the amount, type and timing of information that workplace parties receive; iv) challenges arising when workers choose not to share information (e.g., progressive disciplinary actions); and iv) challenges in focusing on skills and abilities and not performance deficits when managing an unknown condition with an uncertain workplace trajectory.

Conclusion: This study identifies areas where organizational disability support processes could be enhanced to improve the ability of workplaces to include workers with episodic disabilities and sustain their employment. This includes processes to foster communication while protecting privacy and improved assessment of job support needs.

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