Enhancing Workplace Well-Being: The Rise of Online ACT Interventions

In recent years, there has been a surge in the interest in how implementing acceptance- and commitment therapy (ACT) -based interventions in the workplace could affect employee well-being.

Acceptance and Commitment therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy, where the central focus is to develop an individual’s psychological flexibility and ultimately help people live a more fulfilled life that is based on their personal values. ACT as a mental health intervention is widely researched, with over 1000 studies published in scientific journals since 1986 [1, 2]. This fairly large branch of research has demonstrated that ACT can be very effective in treating a variety of conditions, for instance anxiety, depression, chronic pain and addiction [3]. 

Perhaps due to its effectiveness, in recent years, there has been a surge in the interest in how implementing ACT-based interventions in the workplace could affect employee well-being [4]. In working life contexts, through ACT-based interventions, employees could 1) develop a better sense of experiencing and accepting unpleasant and difficult thoughts and emotions related to workplace issues, 2) learn to be in the present moment and thus enhance their focus related to current work tasks and interactions and 3) engage better in work-related activities that align with an individual’s values [5,6,7]. 

In practice, ACT-based interventions usually involve working with exercises that help clients to stop trying to avoid negative feelings, clarify their values and separate their thoughts from absolute truths. ACT exercises often involve metaphors, for instance, thinking about thoughts as leaves and sticks that are floating down a stream; you don’t need to dive in, you can just watch them float down from a bridge [12]. These kinds of exercises could, for instance, help an employee understand that overly critical thoughts about themselves and their work are not helpful and can be recognized as just thoughts, not facts. 

Online ACT Interventions in the Workplace - A Journey of Research and Implementation

Research into the effectiveness of workplace ACT programs, mainly delivered on-site, has shown promising increases in employee psychological flexibility and their mental health [5,8]. However, delivering face-to-face interventions in the workplace (and overall) can be quite costly [9]. Thus, online psychological interventions have received much more interest in the past years by being much cheaper to carry out and are expected to facilitate the sustainability of mental health care [10]. Aside from reduced costs, online interventions also offer access to remote locations and reduced waiting times for receiving support and/or care and thus can be a fantastic alternative to traditional on-site interventions. 

At Wells Finland, we are conducting scientific research related to employee and student wellbeing and as online ACT interventions are our area of special interest, a relevant question came to our minds; Are online ACT interventions effective in the workplace?  To address this, we are currently conducting a systematic review, which refers to collating and analyzing all empirical evidence related to a specific research question [11]. A systematic review is an efficient way of answering a clearly focused issue, such as ours, and offers a way of putting together and assessing published scientific evidence that is available.  

Overall, preliminary evidence suggests that online ACT interventions hold promise for promoting employee well-being, reducing workplace stress, and enhancing organizational outcomes. However, further research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects and optimal implementation strategies of ACT in the workplace. 

Since the summer of 2023, we have also been testing our own ACT-based intervention among university personnel, in the form of an online course. Thus far, close to 40 staff members have completed the Wells course and our preliminary findings show a positive impact on psychological flexibility and mental well-being, and, in line with previous studies, highlight the link between well-being and work skills. Participants have described that the course was a good opportunity to map out where they were mentally, that they found course materials extremely valuable and that the course encouraged useful reflection surrounding mental health. In addition, participants have reported that the course has made their team work better and enhanced their interaction and working as a team. 

In addition to academic settings, we have been piloting the Wells course with 13 partner companies since the fall of 2023 to evaluate its impact and to develop it further to serve the specific needs of occupational environments. Next, we are working on building international collaboration with organizations that are interested in testing our solution.