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Moving past free yoga and fruit bowls to support workplace health and well-being

A series of provocations to support Good Work Nottingham

Man with child

Workplace health and well-being is a critical issue for Good Work Nottingham. Our latest report - Laying the Foundations of a Good Work City - showed the workers of Nottingham work more hours per week than the national average and workers from across Nottingham report higher levels of anxiety and lower life satisfaction than the national average.

Tackling stress and workplace ill-health (both physical and mental) is crucial for individuals and workplaces but we often rely on the individual-focused approach to help those who exhibit symptoms rather than working to develop work or organisation-focused proactive responses. This amounts to ‘sticking plaster’ actions, which can be helpful but usually fail to deal with the root causes.

Our upcoming event will share six perspectives on this broad topic as provocations for future thinking and action. These summaries are shared below in advance of our session. At our upcoming workshop, participants will be asked to reflect on these provocations and to consider how guidance and action locally can make a difference.

Each provocation is hosted by a passionate and informed member of staff from NTU working within the Work, Wellbeing and Performance Research Group. We recognise there will be other areas that require attention but can’t cover everything.  However, alongside these provocations, we have a working document, which outlines the essence of good guidance. Back in February, we gathered a small group of employers in the city to discuss the available guidance for companies. As we suspected they highlighted that the volume and complexity were hard to penetrate and whilst some had made greater strides, it wasn’t always clear how to apply existing guidance to support business success. Our working paper highlights a number of key themes within guidance we have reviewed and shares some of our top tips for businesses to consider.


Does your organisation have a resilient culture to deal with ongoing change? - Kirsten Fasey

A resilient culture is about more than just coping with adversity. It is an ability to successfully deal with significant changes, both internal and external, anticipated and unexpected.  Whilst workplace interventions often focus on developing individual resilience, there is a point at which even the most resilient individual can no longer absorb negative workplace conditions.  Developing a resilient culture is more challenging than focusing on individual-level behaviours as workplace cultures are complex social environments, with influences from individuals, teams, organisations, and even the region in which they are based. All of these issues can impact on the ability to perform under conditions of constant change. A resilient culture is an essential component of creating healthy workplaces where individuals and teams can thrive.  Research on organisational-level resilience and resilient cultures is very much still in its infancy, but we are now building knowledge on the key factors starting to emerge about what resilient organisations have, and what they do, which supports their ability to survive and thrive in a world of ongoing change. We will explore what a resilient culture looks like, and what an organisation can do to encourage its development.

Why do so many well-being initiatives fail? - John Hudson

Prevention is better than cure: sounds logical, yet when it comes to managing work-related health and well-being it's not so simple. The overall evidence paints a rather mixed picture, with some attempts working and others not. So, considering the amount of time and resources that can go into developing employee well-being strategies, should we just give up and just rely on yoga, mindfulness, and counselling to address our workplace woes? While research suggests those can be beneficial it also suggests that unless the causes of work-related health and well-being are also addressed, their benefits tend not to be sustainable in the long-term. Most importantly, research has only recently begun to look more closely at why prevention — despite its obvious logic — has not been as effective as we might think when it comes to improving health and well-being at work. In fact, it has begun to identify key factors that can derail even the most well-intentioned employee well-being strategy and suggests that how things are done is at least as important as what is done. Has your organisation tried to improve the workplace to reduce sources of employee stress and enhance well-being? How did you go about it?  How did it work? What worked, and what would you do differently?

Do the jobs you create enhance your staff’s mental health? - Magdalena Gilek

To date, a common perception is that mental health problems are caused by personal issues, so employers often think that it is not their responsibility to intervene or provide support for their employees. Yet, the impact of job quality (including factors such as job autonomy, social support, work intensity, job security, career prospects, and long working hours) on mental health has been clearly established in past research, which suggests that individuals and employers share a responsibility to promote psychological well-being. To achieve this, it is important to go beyond the role of individual factors and explore how job quality can contribute to mental health and, most importantly, to learn how work-related factors may be controlled and/or reduced to ensure that they are not harmful to individual employees and, ideally, that they have a positive impact on their psychological well-being.

Should your staff be working when they are ill? - Zara Whysall

Presenteeism — attending work when ill — is conveyed in the press as a terrible epidemic, which should be avoided at all costs. But this is at odds with occupational health and vocational rehabilitation best-practice (e.g. IOSH, 2015), which states that when the work allows or is modified to allow gradual and appropriate recovery, individuals experiencing ill-health should remain in work or return to work as soon as possible. Research has shown that many individual and organisational factors influence the decision of an employee to report sick, but what are the potential consequences? There is some evidence that there are benefits of well-managed presenteeism, depending on the type of work and severity of the ill-health condition. How can organisations create a win-win in terms of both productivity and employee health?

Changing your workplace culture – how can it make a difference? - Maria Karanika-Murray

The people make the place and the place makes the people. The importance of a positive organisational culture for supporting health and well-being cannot be overestimated. Yet, although we can describe the culture of a given organisation, we know very little about how we can change it, let alone create a culture that characterises a healthy workplace. Changing an established culture is difficult because the culture is deeply rooted in the organisation, it is based on employees’ values and beliefs, and is reinforced through structure and policies. We will discuss the fundamentals of creating a healthy workplace by changing its culture.

What support do you provide to help staff deal with the work-home transition? - Mark Harris

The changing nature of work means that for many, being away from home for regular extended periods, sometimes working in several different locations is considered a necessary and unavoidable part of the job. This way of working is not something related to any particular profession, industry or level of employment. One of the main issues with working away from home has to do with the transition from work to home life and back to work again, which create problems for well-being and personal relationships. There are some consistent characteristics that apply in the transition process irrespective of occupation: a “coming down” phase on return to home, a “reconnection” phase when the emotional balance is restored and relationships are re-established, and a “preparation” phase of preparing to return to work again. Key issues relate to: the impact on worker’s well-being, applying successful coping strategies for building and maintaining effective work-life balance and developing workable strategies for organisations and individuals.

We hope our upcoming event will shine a light on possible routes to developing healthy work and healthy workplaces and lead you to support your employees or business to become a workplace that understands and applies healthy workplace practices. We hope to continue this conversation and with your support produce a final document based on our working paper on guidance and the insights from the workshop. These will be shared with all event participants and our Good Work Nottingham network. We don’t believe there is one approach or response to help cities like Nottingham to become Good Work Cities but we aim to build a community of engaged partners to ensure we can make a difference where we can.

Spaces are now limited but we do have a few spaces left if you want to join us.  Book here.

Email Nottingham Civic Exchange at if you’d like to hear more about the results of this event.

Following the event, we have shared a draft copy of our foundations for healthy work and workplaces. Please find an online copy here: Setting the foundations for healthy work and workplaces We welcome your views on this draft.

Nottingham Civic Exchange

Nottingham Civic Exchange has been established by Nottingham Trent University to maximise research, policy and practical impact by bringing together university expertise with partners seeking to address the needs of local communities. Nottingham Civic Exchange acts as a resource to look at social and economic issues in new ways. This means facilitating debate, acting as a bridge between research and policy debates, and developing practical projects at a local, city and regional level.

Moving past free yoga and fruit bowls to support workplace health and well-being

Published on 2 May 2019
  • Category: Nottingham Civic Exchange; NTU Doctoral School; School of Science and Technology; School of Social Sciences

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