Researchers awarded major grant to study productivity and workplace wellbeing

  • The Sheffield team, led by Professor Paul Latreille, was one of only five projects selected for the major new grant from the ESRC
  • The UK lags behind other developed economies for productivity 
  • Improving workplace wellbeing is increasingly in focus as a priority to tackle the productivity challenge

office workers meeting


Researchers at The University of Sheffield's Management School have been awarded part of a £3.8m ESRC fund looking at workplace productivity and wellbeing.

Conflict, low staff engagement and poor line management are some of the workplace challenges that can lead to weak productivity.

Leading the project team, which includes Professor Richard Saundry at the University of Plymouth, Professor Peter Urwin at the University of Westminster and Gill Dix at Acas, Professor Latreille hopes to achieve two, related things. The project will provide ‘gold standard’ evidence of the impact of a new training intervention delivered by Acas aimed at enhancing line manager competencies, including how they deal with conflict.

Secondly, that in highlighting those critical competencies and how these can be developed, it will make an important, practical contribution to tackling the UK’s ‘productivity challenge’.

We want to see if a short, training intervention focused on enhancing these skills can improve managers' confidence and capability, and whether this results in enhanced employee and engagement and measurable gains in productivity.

Professor Paul Latreille

The UK Government has set productivity at the heart of their Industrial Strategy to boost employment, deliver advanced infrastructure and support technological advances.

The project is a further demonstration of The University of Sheffield's multidisciplinary approach to knowledge exchange with key partners tackling the grand challenges of the Industrial Strategy.

Professor Paul Latreille said: "Line managers play a vital role in developing (and maintaining) positive working relationships, employee engagement and performance. Yet when we talk to HR practitioners, they regularly tell us that while managers may have strong technical skills, their interpersonal skills are often less well developed. In particular, managers may struggle to deal with difficult situations such as conflict with or between team members."

Acas Head of Workplace Policy, Gill Dix, said: “The UK workforce produces less per hour than our main competitors such as Germany, France and the US. We’re excited to be involved in this research project and to play our part in helping to improve the UK’s workplace productivity.
“We believe that the way workplaces are organised, the part played by managers and involving employees can deliver better outcomes for workers, organisations and the economy. One key aspect to this is ensuring managers are trained to deal with conflict in the workplace.
“Last year Acas trained over 40,000 people across nearly 1000 organisations and we look forward to incorporating any learning points off the back of this study to help improve productivity within the UK.”

Dr Annie Gibney, Portfolio lead at ESRC for Management & Business Studies and Transforming Working Lives said: “This is a very strong set of projects that address the key management practices and employee engagement challenges facing business owners, managers and workers. Not only are they examples of excellent academic research that work closely with firms, policy-makers and key stakeholders – but they also have a real opportunity to lead to meaningful change in business and policy practices.”