IWP About Sheffield

About the Institute of Work Psychology

Our history: The Institute has a strong history of fruitful collaboration with organisations, having commenced as the Social and Applied Psychology Unit in 1968. (See the interview with Peter Warr presented here.) The earlier unit was financed by government research councils and departments, whereas the Institute of Work Psychology (created in 1994) receives core funding from the University of Sheffield. Funds for specific projects are provided by private and public organisations, research institutions, and from international collaborations.

IWP today: The Institute of Work Psychology (IWP) is a world leader in understanding the way people drive organisational effectiveness. The IWP is dedicated to conducting applied research in work settings, in both the public and private sectors, and employs over 30 consultants and researchers to evaluate and implement programs that aim to improve team performance, employee engagement and wellbeing, and leadership. We are an evidence-based and scientific organisation so we use approaches that have been validated in work settings and that can be linked to a wide range of performance outcomes.

IWP has worked with hundreds of companies to apply psychology to workplace issues. We have specific expertise in supporting organisational improvement through practical activities based on research. We are particularly concerned to ensure users are involved in the research we conduct. With a culture deeply rooted in research excellence, IWP has been responsible for the development and introduction of a many new tools and techniques that have helped collaborating organisations audit existing practices and plan and manage change. IWP uses a range of methodologies to evaluate processes in organisations. We have worked with organisations across both public and private sectors including Rolls-Royce, Twinings, EasyJet, BUPA, the NHS, the Department for Education and Skills and Northern Ireland Civil Service.

Illustrative issues we have addressed include creativity training, idea capture schemes, empowerment, employee engagement, organisational change, leadership, management support, team-working, bullying and violence, employee wellbeing and small business needs. Our work has been published in both national and internationally recognised academic journals as well as a wide variety of practitioner outlets. All projects are conducted in collaboration with organisations with a goal of improving the quality of outcomes for participants.

Key aims

  • Advance knowledge about the causes of individual, team and organizational effectiveness at work
  • Increase understanding of the well-being of people at work
  • Advance knowledge about innovation and creativity at work
  • Disseminate this knowledge in the scientific community, in the workplace and in the wider public domain
  • Design, implement and evaluate methods of promoting effectiveness, innovation and well-being at work
  • Develop staff and students to high levels of expertise in work psychology

Strategic Themes

Our Research is organised around the four themes in our research strategy (Work and Well-Being; Organising and Organisation; Leadership and Teamworking; and Creativity, Innovation and Effectiveness), reflecting our traditional areas of expertise and highlighting newer areas of interest.

Work and Wellbeing

Research within IWP focuses on identifying work (and non-work) characteristics and processes that either detract from or enhance job-related wellbeing, as well as the impact of interventions to improve employee wellbeing.

Carolyn Axtell, Karina Nielsen, Malcolm Patterson and Stuart Maguire (from OMDS) are involved in research exploring the extent to which wellbeing is considered within organisational continuous improvement projects. The project will develop a set of guidelines and a toolkit to help organisations proactively consider wellbeing when implementing changes associated with continuous improvement.

Carolyn Axtell and Christine Spring are working with colleagues in both the UK and Australia on the development of research based on our ESRC Big Data Seminar Series, which explores the impact of Big Data on employees’ wellbeing.

Angela Carter continues researching on young people’s employability.

Sarah Brooks is exploring what makes people speak up or remain silent about unethical behaviour. Her research has a particular focus on the role of time., For example, over recent years, the historical reporting of unethical behaviour has become a common phenomenon, yet little is known about the triggers for voice.

Laura Dean is investigating how well employability interventions work for young people with autistic spectrum disorders, focusing on how the current skills agenda in education fits with the abilities and talents of individuals with autism.

Kristin Hildenbrand is currently leading a funded project on the validation of the American/Canadian Leadership Mental Health Awareness Training in the UK context. The project represents a collaboration between Sheffield University Management School (including Anna Topakas and Karina Nielsen), Portland State University and Saint Mary’s University.

Karina Nielsen is leading an ERASMUS+ grant together with Rose Shepherd. The project explores how best to train and evaluate safety training of migrant workers in construction. Partners are the Universities of Bologna and Valencia and two training partners, IIPLE and Valora Prevencion.

Karina Nielsen works with colleagues at the NRCWE to understand how gamification can be used to implement organisational change in such a way that it does not lead to negative wellbeing.

Malcolm Patterson conducts research into several areas of organizational psychology such as organisational culture and climate, entrepreneurship, and the interplay between work, affect (e.g., emotion, moods, engagement, stress) and behaviour. He continues to work with Caroline Knight and Jeremy Dawson investigating the effectiveness of interventions to improve employee engagement, and is developing new research on understanding successful return to work of people with mental health problems.

Christine Sprigg is co-leading (with Dr Coyne at Loughborough University) the development of DRAWING, a new group co-creating a bullying interventions toolkit for organisations.

Peter Warr is developing his model of wellbeing and aspects of mental health. Associated projects are exploring links between wellbeing and job behaviour, contrasts between different forms of affect, and wellbeing in self-employment. He is also preparing a comprehensive book about happiness and unhappiness.

Organising and Organisations

Organisations and workers do not operate in a vacuum, but are rather embedded in a web of social, political, economic and cultural relations. Our research in this area explores how processes of organising and organisations create and/or reproduce and/or disrupt wider macro social and institutional structures of power through micro-level practices. Our research in this area spans across several sectors.

Diane Burns is a member of the ESRC-Large Grant funded Sustainable Care Programme (SCP) Leadership Group and is leading on the Work Package ‘Delivering care at home: emerging models and their implications for sustainable care and wellbeing’. Diane’s research examines the relationships between organisational structure; funding; quality of care work jobs; and the quality of social care and support people are offered and receive. Diane’s research aims to inform the design of models and organisational structures capable of offering sustainable care and wellbeing for care workers, people receiving social care and their family members. Diane is also working with the Foundational Economy Network on developing foundational economy approaches to social care in Sheffield and in Wales (http://foundationaleconomy.com)

Penny Dick is currently exploring police partnership working. This work looks specifically at the processes involved in cross-sector collaborations, focusing on the interactional accomplishment of authority and how this is implicated in the achievement of collaborative advantage.

Rachael Finn and Kamal Birdi are part of a multi-stakeholder team conducting research on incorporating the lived experience of service users in training and education programmes for mental health professionals. The project is funded by Sheffield Health and Social Care and involves a rapid literature review, a practice review and a co-production workshop bringing together lived experience educators, service users, mental health professionals and academics to design new research projects.

Emanuela Girei, with a colleague from Kampala (Uganda), is exploring how researchers’ identities and insider/outsider dynamics affect knowledge production in international development, paying special attention to how these dynamics might reproduce or disrupt wider asymmetries.

Dermot Breslin is studying the emergence of collective practices in a number of start-up organisations. Using a longitudinal qualitative approach, he has examined the phenomena of rule breaking, learning and imprinting.

Leadership and Teamworking

Our approach to studying leadership builds on emerging academic and practitioner thinking by removing the spotlight from the leaders, and instead focusing on the processes and conditions conducive to effective leadership and followership. We endeavour to explore and understand the complex dynamics that shape the outcomes of leadership efforts at the dyadic, team and organisational levels, and in the process develop a set of tools and resources to aid individuals and organisations in realising positive synergies among people and between people and processes.

Jeremy Dawson is undertaking an evaluation of the NHS Workforce Race Equality Standard, a multi-method study investigating how successful the national implementation of this standard has been at creating more equal experiences at work for Black and Minority Ethnic staff.

Another project, funded by the Department of Health, is using historic longitudinal survey data to study how cultures of openness and transparency in the NHS have changed since the publication of the Francis Report (into the Stafford Hospital scandal) in 2012, with results expected later this year.

Jeremy Dawson, Sam Farley, Daria Hernandez-Ibar, Keelan Meade, Tom Greenaway and Nick Jefferson are working on the Behaviour in Teams project, which aims to improve students’ ability to communicate in teams.

Kristin Hildenbrand is currently involved in research projects that explore the central role leaders play in employee well-being and work-life balance, with one particular project focusing on mental health-related stigma.

Karina Nielsen is a partner in a Nordic project looking at how agreement or disagreement between leaders and employees influence the intervention outcomes.

Rose Shepherd explores how practices to manage crowd events are influenced by contextual factors, such as political agendas and the mass media. She adopts an ethnographic methodology to analyse the discourse around differing crowd events.

Anna Topakas continues her work on leadership and followership, with a focus on interpersonal relationships, cognitive processes, identity and emotions. Her research concerns the role of follower cognitions, traits and behaviours in forming leadership perceptions and their participation in the leadership process, with implications for individual and group outcomes.

Dermot Breslin is studying the emergence of group norms and routines in a number of different contexts. Using an agent-based approach he has modelled changing collective behaviours in organisations and communities, including the Premonition project with South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue.

Creativity, Innovation and Effectiveness

With increasing demands and fewer resources, organisations across all sectors are facing the challenge of enhancing their creativity, innovation and effectiveness in order to meet their goals.

Kamal Birdi is leading a project theme on collaboration for innovation as part of the overall £3.9m EPSRC-funded Grand Challenge for Water TWENTY65 research programme. The aims of the five year (2016-2020) project are to identify the factors influencing collaboration between various stakeholders in the water sector at different stages of the innovation process and to develop training and technology interventions to enhance these partnerships.

Jeremy Dawson is working with a team in the School of Health and Related Research to evaluate a number of technological innovations being used to benefit patients with long-term conditions in the Sheffield City Region.

Andreana Drencheva has ongoing and emerging collaborative projects related to three main areas of research: micro-foundations of entrepreneurial action, social change, and context. Her research includes projects on social entrepreneurs’ feedback-seeking, learning, and identity, on social change and social inclusion.

Dermot Breslin is studying group creativity using an experimental approach. His research focuses on the impact of off-task breaks and time of the day on the creative performance of groups.