Behind the Mind: A Deep Dive into Workplace Mental Health with Reiner Rugulies

Workplace mental health is a topic that has gained significant attention in recent years, and for good reason. The upcoming course on Workplace Mental Health in Copenhagen in October brings together leading experts to address this vital issue.

The course leader, Reiner Rugulies, has a career in psychosocial occupational health and public health research that has made him a pivotal figure in this field. We had a chance to talk with Reiner about the evolving landscape of mental health at work, his journey in research, and what attendees can look forward to in this comprehensive course.

Background and Journey into Research

I hold a Master of Science (1993) and a PhD (1998) in Psychology from the University of Bielefeld, Germany, and a Master of Public Health (2000) from UC Berkeley, USA. With 30 years of research experience, I’ve investigated psychosocial factors and health in Germany, the USA, and Denmark. Currently a Professor at the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Denmark (NFA) and affiliated with the University of Copenhagen, I also serve as Editor-in-Chief of the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. I’ve authored more than 300 peer-reviewed articles, mainly focusing on the impact of psychosocial working conditions on physical and mental health.

Inspiration and Influences

When I was a psychology student at the University of Bielefeld, Germany, I did an internship at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), USA. This was the first time I got into contact with research on psychosocial factors and health, in particular psychosocial factors, and coronary heart disease. My mentor there was Larry Scherwitz, a psychologist and behavioral medicine researcher and a wonderful and supportive person. I spent three months at UCSF, and afterwards, I felt that doing research is something that might suit me.

In addition to Larry Scherwitz, other researchers that influenced me in my PhD and Post-doc years were Robert A. Wicklund (Social Psychology), Johannes Siegrist (Medical Sociology and Psychosocial Work Environment Research), and S. Leonard Syme and John Frank (Public Health Research and Epidemiology).

Career Highlights

I do not think so much in terms of a highlight or a special event, more in terms of what our group has accomplished over the years. My colleague Ida E.H. Madsen and I lead a research group at NFA that conducts research on psychosocial work environment and health. We are a small team, but I feel that we are contributing quite a bit to the international discussion in our field, in particular with regards to workplace mental health. Some of our papers are quite highly cited and seem to have made a difference.

Overcoming Challenges in Research

We are dealing with complicated things, so the challenges are plentiful. It is important to keep a critical mind, in particular towards one’s own research, to be aware of the challenges and the limitations we are facing in what we are doing. This is not easy. In many regards, doing research is a type of business, it is about hunting for money (research funding) and to ‘sell’ your results to journals and to stakeholders. But as an academic, your primary aim should not be to be productive or to ‘sell’; your primary aim should be to better understand the topics you are studying. The tricky thing is to run research as a successful business without developing the mindset of a business person.

“By engaging with experts and peers, participants will gain new insights and perspectives, equipping them with the knowledge to make meaningful contributions to workplace mental health in their own contexts.”

Workplace mental health is a relatively new topic that got a lot of attention recently. It is a hot topic, both in the academic discussion and in discussion among stakeholders. In 2022, the World Health Organization (WHO) published for the first time ‘Guidelines on mental health at work.’ In the same year, the Office of the US Surgeon General published a ‘Framework for workplace mental health and well-being.’ And in 2023, The Lancet published a three-paper discussion series on ‘Work and health,’ with one paper, which was led by our group, that focused on the role of work for population mental health.

Goals and Societal Impact

There are different levels of impact. First, I hope to make an impact on myself, I hope that by doing research I become more knowledgeable about some issues, or at least become less stupid than I would have been without doing research. Second, I hope to make an impact on our junior colleagues, Research Assistants, PhD Students, and Post-docs, to pass on our knowledge to these junior researchers, so they can move the field forward and do better research in the future. Third, I hope to make an impact on the international community of researchers in the field of work environment and health, that our research is read and discussed and that it inspires other researchers around the globe. Fourth, I hope to make a societal impact, that our research makes, at least in the long run, the world a little bit better, by contributing to a more healthy and safe work environment.

Why Attend the Workplace Mental Health Course?

We have at the course an excellent international group of presenters, distinguished scholars from Australia, The Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark. They will present and discuss workplace mental health from all angles, how the work environment can influence mental health, and what we can do to protect and maybe even enhance workers’ mental health. And what we can do to help individuals with mental health problems to remain in the labour market and to thrive at the workplace. If you are interested in these kinds of things, then the NIVA course on workplace mental health in early October, in Copenhagen, is the place for you to be.

By engaging with experts and peers, participants will gain new insights and perspectives, equipping them with the knowledge to make meaningful contributions to workplace mental health in their own contexts.

Course: 1st – 3rd of October 2024, Scandic Palace Hotel, Copenhagen, Denmark

More informationCourse web page | Course registration | Last registration date: 28.8.2024.


Course Leader Presentation, NIVA News