Which workplace health initiatives work, for whom, in what contexts, and how? A rapid realist review

Charlotte Rothwell, Mackenzie Fong, Claire O'malley, Chloe Gay, Callum Bradford, Amelia Lake, Frances Hillier brown

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting Abstractpeer-review


The work environment is an important determinant of health and health inequalities. Workplaces have a key role in preventing ill health. The WHO and Office for Health Improvement and Disparities encourage implementing employer-led workplace health award schemes tailored to specific contexts. Therefore, when designing and developing workplace initiatives it becomes imperative to know what works, for whom, and in what circumstances. This research aims to facilitate understanding of the various contexts and mechanisms through which workplace health initiatives are implemented while considering how these might affect employee health outcomes.

We did a rapid realist review to explore the different contexts (C) in which workplace initiatives are implemented that may fire a mechanism (M), leading to a change in employee health-related and business outcomes (O). We searched 12 databases for peer-reviewed papers published from June 1, 2019, to March 31, 2022 that referred to a workplace health and or wellbeing programme or intervention. There were no restrictions placed on study design. We recorded the impact of context and mechanisms on any health and business-related outcomes. The review was carried out in accordance with RAMESES publication standards.

26 articles were included. Most studies were conducted in North America (n=13) and Europe (n=9), with four conducted in Australia and Oceania and one in Asia. We developed eight realist CMO programme theories. For example, when leaders are committed to employee health and wellbeing (C) (identified in 16 studies), demonstrated by role modelling healthy behaviours and actively promoting workers to engage in initiatives, employees feel valued and “permitted” to engage in healthy and wellbeing initiatives (M) which might lead to greater participation in health promotion activities (O). This review is registered with PROSPERO, CRD42022303262.

Findings contribute towards raising employers' awareness of what interventions might work for their employees. For instance, those interventions that encompass engagement of leadership at all levels to promote health and wellbeing are likely to leave employees feeling valued, motivated, and permitted to engage in interventions. Limitations of this study include potential biases arising from using rapid review processes and the inability to produce standardised recommendations. However, knowledge gained, which considers complexity and flexibility, might help inform, tailor, and support the implementation of future workplace health initiatives.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S81
JournalThe Lancet
Issue numberSupp 1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2023


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