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Five questions with... the INWORK pilot team

Could workplaces be our mental health support of the future?

Colleagues from Warwick Medical School have led on research into how workplaces could support employee mental health across the Midlands. We spoke with Charlotte Kershaw, INWORK Project Manager, to find out more.

Can you tell us more about INWORK and what the aims of the project were? 

"INWORK was the umbrella term for a number of workplace mental health interventions that were developed and trialled as part of the Mental Health and Productivity Pilot programme. This was funded by Midlands Engine and brought together charities, Midlands universities, local government and employers, with the aim of improving mental health, wellbeing, and productivity in the Midlands region.  

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Warwick was the research lead for the programme – we developed three interventions:

  • SLEEP – which targeted insomnia and emotion regulation included online therapy appointments, alongside digital content.
  • REST – which targeted symptoms of stress, depression and anxiety and was an eight-week, fully-digital programme.
  • BITE – which involved a series of therapy appointments focused on disordered eating. 

We were particularly interested in discovering how feasible it would be to offer this kind of support via workplaces, instead of via more traditional routes – would employers be willing to offer it, and would anyone take part?" 

How did Warwick staff get involved? 

"We’re delighted that staff at Warwick were able to take part in this research project. The Wellbeing and HR leadership teams were very supportive and gave us the ‘OK’ to advertise the trials to staff. In the end, 287 Warwick colleagues expressed interest and 95 took part.   

There were both ‘intervention’ groups and ‘control’ groups – the intervention groups were given access to the support on offer straight away, while the control group initially continued with life as normal. This meant we could be confident that any changes we saw in the intervention group (e.g. in insomnia symptoms) were due to the support they’d received and not to some wider context (e.g. a pandemic!). The control groups received support at a later date, too.  

We collected data from our participants before starting the trial and after receiving support. There was also short and long term follow-up collection of data for all participants, too." 

What were your key findings? 

"The trials demonstrated that offering this mental health support via employers – as opposed to via traditional out-of-work medical routes – was possible. The interventions also had a positive impact on the symptoms targeted, though SLEEP was the only trial designed to let us say this with statistical confidence. SLEEP participants showed a 50 percent reduction in depression and insomnia, and a 40 percent reduction in anxiety symptoms compared to 10 percent and 8 percent reductions in the control group. Full analyses will be published later in the year, but the lay reports are available nowLink opens in a new window and give a good overview."   

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Do you feel that studies like INWORK are helping to create more support and resource to improve our country’s mental health? 

"There’s growing recognition that our workplaces are communities: places we spend a lot of time in; places that could offer employees committed support or treatment to lessen – or even prevent – mental health problems.  

One of our challenges for the future is to make our INWORK interventions more easily-accessible to those who aren’t in office-based roles, or to those where it’s tough to arrange time away from the workday. We’re also working with partners in the construction industry, where working patterns and stereotypical masculine norms may make it more difficult for them to receive meaningful support." 

Where can staff read more about INWORK? And will there be chance to get involved again in the future? 

"The team has done a brilliant job of pulling together some really engaging reportsLink opens in a new window, so I’d encourage everyone to read those for more information. 

We will be running a larger trial of the REST programme this year (including improvements based on participant feedback and learning from the initial pilot study), and we hope to offer this to Warwick staff. We will also be applying for Research Council funding to run larger trials of the SLEEP and BITE programmes, so watch this space for opportunities to get involved and help us to improve mental health and wellbeing support in the region and more widely." 

With thanks to: Charlotte Kershaw, Sophie Tyerman, Dr Talar Moukhtarian, Prof Caroline Meyer, Prof Nicole Tang, Dr Carla Toro, Dr Lukasz Walasek, Aggie Payne, Tabitha Jackson, Prof Glenn Waller, Dr Krishane Patel and Dr Anna Hurley-Wallace.