Implementing Multi-level Interventions in three Spanish SMEs: the main challenges and the Ten Golden Learned Lessons

by Josefina Peláez Zuberbuhler, Angela Veng Mei Leong and Marisa Salanova, Universitat Jaume I

Design and Implementation of multi-level interventions

During 2021 and 2022, the H-WORK assessments, interventions and evaluation toolkits were tested in three Spanish small and mid-size enterprises (SMEs). These intervention sites were a mechanical engineering sector company with 45 employees, a digital transformation company with 99 employees, and a business performance consulting company with 133 employees.

Based on the theoretical review, needs analysis, and the results from the H-WORK Assessment Toolkit, the most appropriate evidence-based multi-level Positive Psychological Interventions (PPIs) were proposed for each test site. The main aim of these interventions was to promote the development of positive qualities and capabilities and to increase well-being and the quality of working life. And all were based on previously validated scientific models, such as IGLO. In the IGLO model, each intervention falls into a different category level. I (Individual): Positive Stress Management, Positive Social Interaction, Healthy Emotionality, and Compassion at Work; G (Group): Strengths-based Coaching; L (Leader): Positive Leadership Development; and O (Organizational): Optimization of Healthy Organizational Practices. The PPIs form an integrated whole rather than a collection of stand-alone tools.

Implementation: enablers and challenges

During the implementation phase, each site covered at least three IGLO levels and used modalities from traditional face-to-face to digital formats based on web-based virtual webinars and a digital platform. Participation was voluntary to ensure a base level of motivation. And where possible, each participant was given enough time to attend all sessions and overcome the constraints of shift work and heavy workloads. However, unexpected project changes and client requests did hamper this effort, particularly for individual-level interventions.

Overall, there was a high level of participation and commitment. The pre-intervention information phase helped create a supportive environment where participants were engaged and willing to put into practice the tools provided. Most middle managers attended sessions with their teams at the group level interventions. Whilst the high number of participants was positive, it did make it a challenge to accomplish all activities. And there were not enough follow-up sessions to monitor action plans and the attainment of team goals.

At the leader and group level interventions, the participation of the CEO, leaders, and senior managers conveyed the message of commitment to well-being. However, due to workload and management issues, it was difficult to secure the attendance and active participation of all senior managers and leaders. This sometimes resulted in a high overload of one stakeholder, usually the HR manager, and a lack of commitment from group representatives to drive forward agreed action plans.

Learned Lessons

The Ten Golden Lessons are the following:

  1. A supportive culture and leadership team are essential and come from a management team that encourages employee participation. But words are not enough. Leadership and HR teams must understand the implications of intervention programs and formally agree to communicate and collaborate throughout the intervention process. The CEO commitment is also crucial to guarantee the program’s success.
  2. Facilitating sessions in a face-to-face modality increases participation, commitment, and social interaction among participants. When intervention sessions are online, increasing facilitator interaction in the process is necessary for maintaining participant motivation levels and preventing dropout.
  3. It is necessary to give enough time within sessions to plan the accomplishment of team goals and actions, especially when there is a high number of participants at the group level interventions.
  4. Operational shift patterns within production facilities made it difficult to allocate time for all participants to attend. So, the active support of top management and the HR department is crucial for developing new practices and making resources available for the intervention process.
  5. User concerns about data security were another main barrier cited, even though there was an explicit declaration that all information collected was GDPR compliant. One way to increase the visibility of data protection practices might be to provide intervention recipients with information via data management sheets or infographics.
  6. As people continue to work remotely since the pandemic, they might perceive interventions via digital technologies as yet another thing on the screen, which could lead to digital overload or technostress. So, it is necessary to strive for a balanced approach. The effective use of digital technologies for these initiatives depends on adequate infrastructure, devices, and internet connection speeds within the organization. And the level of digital literacy of employees.
  7. Kickoff meetings as well as closing meetings increase engagement and motivation, especially for online interventions where there is no individual guidance from a consultant. Regular check-ins with a coach also provide support for self-guided interventions.
  8. Internal facilitators as project supporters. Line managers and senior managers can support the initiative by raising awareness of mental health and well-being at work among employees. And encourage participation and adherence to the program by helping them understand the benefits of the intervention. Furthermore, internal project champions that support the project and positive communication between facilitators and leaders also contribute to successfully implementing an intervention.
  9. External facilitators also help. When positive psychology experts work with internal facilitators, it is the best combination for maintaining motivation and interest in the project. Such collaboration helps to interpret and translate results from a scientific perspective into practical applications.
  10. Therefore, to enhance the effectiveness of interventions for mental health promotion at SMEs, it is paramount to apply the four principal pillars proposed by the H-Work conceptual framework namely, integrated multi-level interventions; bottom-up and participative approach; application of positive occupational health psychology; and exploitation of digital technologies.