Qualitative approach to needs assessment in four Spanish organisations

By Josefina Peláez Zuberbühler and the UJI Team, Universitat Jaume I

Application of the HAT

As part of the Preparation phase, an Assessment Toolkit (HAT) was developed for the needs analysis, to be used in the different H-WORK intervention sites across Europe. Particularly, in Spain, three SMEs (IT, industrial, and business performance consulting) and one public hospital participated during 2020 and 2021. Following a bottom-up perspective and a participatory process, guideline-based individual interviews (48) and focus groups (20) have been done with managers and employees respectively. In total, 48 Managers and 112 employees (divided in groups of between 5 and 10 participants) were asked about existing resources, demands, and main needs for mental health promotion at different levels (Individual, Group, Leader, Organization; IGLO). Needs related to the impact of Covid-19 in their working environment were also assessed. Additionally, a quantitative survey was applied to assess context and organizational practices related to mental health promotion. The ultimate goal of the analysis was to inform an action plan and choice of multilevel interventions to tackle the issues identified through this process.

Main findings at the IGLO levels

Based on the Job Demand-Resources Model results helped us to detect main aspects to preserve and key factors to improve upon, subsequently classified according to the IGLO Model. Although results were quite different in each test site, these are the main common demands and resources:

At the individual level, the main resources were autonomy, personal resources and work commitment. The main demands were quantitative and emotional overload, low flexibility when facing changes, and work-life disbalance; factors that have been increased due to high work pressures during Covid-19.

At the group level, the main facilitators were social support and trust among team members. The main demands were diversity in objectives among departments, non-participatory decision making, and decreased physical contact and team cohesion due in part to the effects of Covid-19 (e.g., social restrictions and teleworking).

At the leader level, while supervisory support and vertical trust were main facilitators in some of the test sites, in others, these were detected as main factors to improve. Leadership development skills were identified as an important need to enhance mental health in almost all the test sites.

Finally, at the organisational level, the optimal structuring of the departments, technical training, digital or technical innovation, and support from HR or occupational health departments were some of the main facilitators. The main factors to improve upon were related to organizational practices such as communication, information and career development plan.

Experiences gathered from the Needs Analysis procedure

One encouraging aspect of the need analysis process was the high involvement of the organization’s stakeholders, which maintained a fluid communication and facilitated the whole implementation. One of the first challenges that we faced in the preparation phase was to adjust the selection of the participants to the interviews and focus groups. While in two of the test-sites a randomized procedure was possible, in the other two (due to work shifts) invitations were sent to all employees and based on their interest a filter was made to ensure a diverse representation in terms of demographics such as age, gender, tenure and responsibility. Another main challenge was to adapt the modality of the interviews (e.g., online, face to face, mixed) depending on the Covid-19 restrictions and changes on the work environment (e.g., telework versus office-based work). Fortunately, no major obstacles were detected, and all the activities were effectively adapted to each site.

One important lesson learned from the HAT protocol was the use of a positive and appreciative approach in the assessment, balancing the focus of the participants on positive aspects of their everyday working life. Another key learning point was targeting more than one level which allowed for a systemic and informed approach to needs detection and mental health interventions. Moreover, the implementation of the HAT enhanced participation through a bottom-up, by considering both managers and employees opinions in the decisions that were made on the action plans during stakeholder’s meetings. One limitation on the application of the toolkit in Group 1 was that the quantitative survey evaluating context and organizational measures was meant to be completed only by a middle manager together with an employee representative in each test site. This shortcoming was addressed in Group 2, where the quantitative survey was sent to all participants. This allowed to obtain more consistent and representative results on employees’ perception of organizational practices and management commitment.

Needs translated into actions

Building on the main results and based on the IGLO levels, a battery of interventions was proposed for each test site. A participatory and co-creative process was followed, which included all stakeholders, to decide upon an action plan. Grounded on a positive psychology approach, the following interventions were selected for each of the IGLO levels:

All of them are based on previously validated interventions or scientific models. For each organization, between 3 and 4 interventions have been selected. In two of the test sites, interventions started in March, and in the other two the implementation process will start soon (November 2021). Some of these interventions are also being implemented in other H-WORK European test sites, such as Positive social climate, Positive stress management and Positive leadership development in AUSL (Italy), Positive leadership development in Rijkswaterstaat (The Netherlands), and Appreciative Survey Feedback in Eyelevel (Czech Republic).