Academics win £3.8m grant to discover which wellbeing initiatives work

A team of UK academics have been awarded a share in a £3.8m research grant to investigate what works when it comes to wellbeing in the workplace.

University of East Anglia is one of five projects that the Economic and Social Research Council has selected to explore the impact of different management, engagement and wellbeing initiatives on workplace productivity.

Kevin Daniels, professor of organizational behaviour at UEA’s Norwich Business School, helped produce recent research for What Works Centre for Wellbeing.

It established there are five elements that are essential for employee productivity: good management, a quality job, social relationships, help for struggling workers and a health and wellbeing programme.

Speaking to Safety Management, he said that although these are the core elements to wellbeing, what we less sure about is how to achieve them.

“What we don’t know is how you get to the [ideal five elements to wellbeing] and this is what the research is about.

“We want to look at what are the most cost-effective combination of things you can do. Are some interventions better for people who are at risk, who are suffering with some mental health problems rather than those who are perfectly happy?

"Is improving people’s wellbeing when they’re already well cost effective because presumably it’s easier to shift people with poor wellbeing? So we’re looking at that,” he explains.

Good social relationships are essential to employee wellbeing and productivity. Photograph: iStock

The funding was announced on Friday 18 January. Research institute RAND Europe, and a partner with UEA on the project, was behind the 2018 report Promising practices for health and wellbeing at work, which said that interventions focusing on issues including domestic violence, sleep and menopause were emerging target areas for workplaces.

Daniels says that they will be looking at these and “as many interventions as they can” to understand more about what works.

RAND also researches VitalityHealth’s study of Britain’s Healthiest Workplace [the winners were announced on 17 January] to identify outstanding organisations when it comes to employee health and wellbeing. Daniels and his team will look closely at anonymised data to see if any patterns and common threads will emerge.

“Good relationships at work, good management and managers that can do the interpersonal stuff like clarifying objectives and consulting, not just shouting and expecting things to happen is key. Also job quality. If you don’t have these things to some minimum amount of decency, free fruit is going to undermine it.”

Part of UEA’s research will be to follow eight companies’ wellbeing journey over two years. Work will see if over time new approaches to wellbeing and working methods have made a positive impact on productivity and how.

 “We are interested in organizations that want to improve and then to see what it does that can help,” says Kevin.

“That’s the key thing – you have companies like John Lewis who’ve been doing employee welfare since they started. The same is true for a lot of family owned confectionary businesses as well – there’s already an institutional structure. So organisations that don’t have that history, the question is, how can they build it in?”

University of East Anglia want to hear from small or large organisations who are keen to measure the impact of wellbeing initiatives on their productivity and to hear from companies willing to share their success stories for use as case studies. Subjects can be anonymized. Write to Professor Kevin Daniels at: Kevin.Daniels@uea.ac.uk