IWP Projects Sheffield

Research overview

We use our knowledge and research expertise to conduct research that informs ongoing academic debates and addresses real-world problems through applied research project in collaboration with organisations.

A selection of our current research projects:

Are we in the same boat? Leader and employee perceptions in connection with health promoting interventions

Organizational interventions aimed at change how work is organized and managed are generally recommended to improve employee well-being. However, reviews and meta-analyses reveal that these interventions often do not reach their potential to improve employee wellbeing. To understand how and why such interventions may fail the field of evaluation has moved from mere effect evaluation to process evaluation. Process evaluation focuses on organizational context and intervention processes, and explores how these influence intervention outcomes. Currently most process evaluations fail to consider social dynamics and shared perceptions of key stakeholders in the implementation process.

It is well established that work teams and their leaders differ in their perceptions of work and working conditions. Such disagreement is related to poor health, job dissatisfaction and poor performance among the members of team. Despite this knowledge leader and team perceptions are not considered in current evaluations of organizational interventions. Thus, we lack information about how differences in perceptions concerning implementation or organizational context relate to intervention outcomes.

The project systematically explores employees’ and leaders’ perspectives and aims to analyze the consequences of any disagreement between these stakeholders. More specifically, we study team members’ and their leaders’ perceptions of intervention implementation and organizational context and we explore how any disagreements relate to the outcomes of the interventions, i.e. employee wellbeing. The research questions (RQ) are built up sequentially, starting with a simple evaluation of the agreement frequency and ending with an experimental part whereby the researchers test whether knowledge of agreement levels can be used as an intervention component itself:

  1. To what extent do team members and their leader agree on factors related to intervention implementation (e.g. communication, leader actions, employee participation) and organizational context (e.g. team climate, group readiness for change)?
  2. How does the level of agreement between leader and team relate to intervention outcomes i.e. employee well-being?
  3. How does the direction of disagreement between a leader and team relate to intervention outcomes? E.g. Do work teams where a leader rates intervention implementation experience greater improvements in intervention outcomes?
  4. How does feedback on agreement levels between leader and team impact the agreement levels and intervention outcomes over time?

Funding: The project had been awarded SEK 3.448.000 from AFA Insurance, Sweden.

Researchers: Professor Karina Nielsen (IWP) is a Co-Investigator on the project that is led by Dr Henna Hasson from Karolinska Institute, Sweden. Other partners include the National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen and Umeaa University, Sweden.

Building a culture of openness across the healthcare system: From transparency through learning to improvement?

There have been calls for a shift to a culture of openness in the NHS, to help identify problems in care, involve and listen to patients, and learn from failings to improve care quality.

Efforts to learn from recent high-profile failings in Stafford and elsewhere have led to recommendations for action, new government policies around transparency and candour, and initiatives aimed at changing attitudes and actions across the NHS. But ingrained cultural and organisational barriers to transparency endure, and potential tensions exist between these policies and other pressures on the NHS, amid budgetary constraints and workforce pressures. This study will provide a detailed examination of attitudes and behaviour in relation to openness at every level in organisations providing NHS services; an understanding of whether, why and how initiatives developed by senior managers and policymakers translate into positive action at the level of patient care; and practical recommendations for policymakers, senior NHS managers and clinicians that will make a real difference to how openness is put into practice.

Using a mixture of quantitative and qualitative methods, the study draws both on existing sources of data on attitudes to transparency and how they have changed through time, and new data that we will generate using a survey and interviews about how policy around openness is being put into practice.

Funding: £474,641 is provided by the Department of Health’s Policy Research Programme. The project runs from January 2017 to June 2019.

Researchers: The research team is led by Professor Graham Martin (University of Leicester), with co-investigators Professor Jeremy Dawson (IWP) and Professor Mary Dixon-Woods (University of Cambridge). Dr Imelda McCarthy (IWP) is a research associate working on the study.

Collaboration for innovation in the water-sector (Theme 7 of the TWENTY65 research programme)

Water is the foundation of our society. At present we have increasingly unsustainable and inflexible water systems that will not be able to meet society’s future water needs as populations increase, infrastructure ages, and as the natural environment comes under increasing long term pressures.

Given this situation, a grand challenge emerges: How can we tailor water systems and change innovation in the water sector to deliver positive impact on health, the environment, the economy and society by 2065? A consortium of six Universities are undertaking this challenge under the umbrella of the TWENTY65 research programme.

Theme 7 of TWENTY65 addresses the issue that the transformative aims of providing tailored water for all demand radically innovative new approaches requiring creative and integrative collaborations between Water Companies and their major stakeholders (Supply Chain, Academia, User and Policy). At the moment, stakeholder silos and disciplinary and sectoral boundaries constantly undermine the success of collaborative innovation efforts. For example, academics produce potentially influential new research but struggle through lack of collaboration with the Water Industry in how to implement those ideas on a wide scale. Water companies and their supply chain fail to engage domestic and business users to gain a detailed enough understanding on their differing needs and willingness to change. Policy-makers lack a sufficient understanding of the complexity of the water industry when defining new regulations. Our research theme therefore aims to improve our understanding of the complexities of collaboration and offer strategies and tools for enhancing shared innovation processes through two objectives:

  1. Identify the factors influencing the effectiveness of collaboration between stakeholders across the different stages of the innovation process from challenge identification and analysis, to creative idea generation, to idea evaluation, to implementation and maintenance of innovations.
  2. Develop, test and implement a new practical model to guide collaborations across different stages and stakeholders in the innovation process. The model will build on our existing CLEAR IDEAS innovation development framework to provide the basis for training interventions and software tools.

Funding: The funding body for this research is the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The amount awarded for Theme 7 is £274,000 (£3.9m for overall TWENTY65 research programme - duration 2016-2020).

Researchers: Dr Kamal Birdi (IWP, Theme Leader), Dr James Porter (Theme Research Associate), Dr Vanessa Speight (Theme Co-Investigator), all from the University of Sheffield and Professor Kerrie Unsworth (Theme Co-Investigator, Leeds University Business School). The overall TWENTY65 research programme lead is Prof Joby Boxall (University of Sheffield)

Click here to find out more about TWENTY65.

Doing Care Differently

‘Doing Care Differently’ is a collaborative pilot study about innovation in the provision of home care.

The aim is to encourage experiments in the design and implementation of new models of funding and operating at the local level. The research objectives are to inform the commissioning and strategy of our research partner Sheffield City Council; and to develop a robust network of academics, council officers, commissioners and care providers in order to share experience and learning, encourage new collaborations and develop political alliances supporting new care models.

This is action research which will:

  1. Investigate the health outcomes, financing implications and labour process organisation in established and alternative care models with a specific focus on Sheffield.
  2. Create a forum for stakeholders to discuss choices, develop plans and identify the support mechanisms necessary to successfully develop new models of care and support.

By the end of the pilot we aim to have the knowledge, practical experience and network necessary to successfully apply for large scale project funding, enabling us to scale up our action research and facilitation to other local authorities and stakeholders across the UK.

Funding: The project has been funded by a Wellcome Trust Humanities and Social Science Seed Award of £50.000.

Researchers: Dr Diane Burns (IWP), principle investigator of the project, is leading a team of nine academics from the University of Manchester, Cardiff University and Queen Mary, University of London.

Exploring Big Data to Examine Employee Health and Wellbeing: A Seminar Series

This seminar series aims to critically explore the possibilities of using Big Data for assessing health and wellbeing risks within organisations and for advancing knowledge on health and wellbeing prediction.

This addresses a significant gap in wellbeing and health research and fits well with the national agenda on health and wellbeing. The series explores the idea of using some of the huge amounts of digitally captured and other data gathered within organisations (such as from network traffic data, use of specific work-based systems, phone calls, emails, web access, and HR systems) as a 'temperature check' of the organisation's health, and to help identify patterns in work practices that might lead to poor health and wellbeing.

For instance, organisational or departmental data that indicates high levels of work intensification, insufficient breaks or holidays from work or too much time spent at the computer screen, when combined could indicate risk of ill-health and poor wellbeing due to physical and psychological strain and lack of recovery from work. Moreover, findings from Big Data could help us to develop an improved understanding of employee wellbeing processes and provide a unique opportunity to track and combine indicators of wellbeing over time. However, given ethical and legal concerns with the use of such data, this area needs to be critically considered from different disciplinary perspectives.

The seminar series therefore brings together a multidisciplinary network of academics (from Work Psychology, Sociology, Information Science and Law) alongside organisational representatives to investigate and debate the possibilities, benefits and disadvantages of using Big Data in this way. The final seminar will also engage policy makers and employee/professional groups to examine the lessons learned from the seminar series and develop directions for future research.

Funding: The seminar series is funded by the ESRC (£28,004) for 24 months. The Digital Society Network (University of Sheffield) also supported this series (£1000).

Researchers: Dr. Carolyn Axtell (IWP), Dr. Christine Sprigg (IWP) alongside Dr. Mark Taylor (Law, University of Sheffield); Professor Stephen Pinfield (Information School, University of Sheffield) & Professor Bridgette Wessels (Sociology, University of Newcastle).

Click here to read more on the DEW Seminar Series.

How does work shape our identity?

The EAWOP Small Group Meeting was held at Halifax Hall Hotel (a venue linked to the University of Sheffield) in Sheffield, UK on Thursday 6th and Friday 7th October 2016. The topic for the SGM was ‘How Does Work Shape Our Identity?’

Thirteen participants attended from Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, UK and Germany. All participants were from universities although several attendees also worked as independent consultants in the field of work psychology. Participants ranged from 1st year PhD students to full professors, all in the field of organizational psychology.

Programme overview

The overall topic for the SGM was ‘How Does Work Shape Our Identity?’ Within this wide-ranging and diverse topic, presentations on the following topics took place at the SGM:

  • Work identity and rigidity – job crafting
  • Social/work identity of unemployed people
  • How to develop work identity in young unemployed people
  • Work identity of people in ‘dirty jobs’
  • How to understand work identity for people who have multiple jobs
  • How work identity links to personality
  • Professional versus work identities
  • How employment contracts link to identities at work.

Key highlights

  • Extensive group collaboration and in-depth discussion on the topic of work identity – enabling us to make good progress with the development of a positioning paper on the topic on day 2 of the SGM.
  • Seeing colleagues benefiting from the wide cultural diversity we were able to achieve from five countries present at the meeting – gaining new contacts and extending networks.

Meeting Outcomes

  • Development of a new European network of colleagues in Organisational/Work Psychology who are interested in showcasing the importance of researching work identity – we have set up a shared email list of attendees and will be sharing useful content via Dropbox. We will be holding a reunion meeting aligned with the EAWOP Congress in Dublin (May 2017).
  • Development of a positioning paper which will illustrate the complexity of the topic of identity at work. Initial drafting of the positioning paper has already started; we aim to have a first version ready for submission before our reunion meeting in May 2017.

Funding: European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology (EAWOP) 3,500 EUR over nine months

Organising team:

  • Dr Eva Selenko (Senior Lecturer in Work Psychology, University of Loughborough)
  • Dr Angela Carter (Lecturer in Work Psychology, University of Sheffield (IWP) and Independent Consultant, Just Development)
  • Emma Parry (Doctoral Researcher, Institute of Work Psychology, University of Sheffield and Associate Consultant, Inova Consultancy)
  • One Keynote was delivered by Professor Stephen Woods (Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at Surrey Business School, University of Surrey).

Identifying the mechanisms linking socioeconomic status and child antisocial behaviour

Antisocial behaviour in young people causes extensive suffering for both victims and perpetrators, at a substantial cost to society. A wealth of evidence shows that antisocial behaviour is more common in children from families of lower socioeconomic status (SES). But to develop policies that can reduce both inequalities in, and absolute levels of child antisocial behaviour, it is crucial to understand how lower SES increases risk, and whether effects are consistent across development.

This project will address these issues in two linked studies. First we are systematically reviewing and synthesising the existing literature on mechanisms underlying links between family SES and offspring antisocial behaviour. Although a substantial body of literature has examined these issues, no comprehensive review exists to date.

Secondly guided by the review findings, we are conducting new analyses of the linking mechanisms in two large-scale, nationally representative longitudinal data sets: the British Child and Adolescent Mental Health Surveys. These include independent samples first contacted in 1999 (10,438 participants) and 2004 (7,977 participants) respectively, each followed up 3 years later. Both studies provide detailed multi-informant measures of child antisocial behaviour, several indices of family SES, and measures of potential linking mechanisms spanning parental mental health, parenting, family functioning, child intellectual ability, neighbourhood characteristics and peer context.

Funding body: Nuffield Foundation

Researcher: Dr Chris Stride (IWP) is a co-investigator on the project that is led by Prof Richard Rowe from the Psychology Department, University of Sheffield. Investigating team: University of Sheffield, University of Sydney, King’s College London.

Interagency collaboration in the public sector: Understanding how to build bridges for delivering welfare in the community

Interagency collaborative platforms (spaces, partnerships, networks) are increasingly being established as a means of public sector organisations meeting the challenges of improving service delivery and reducing costs. However, research on these inter-organisational initiatives to date has been underdeveloped, with the focus predominantly at the organisational level.

This project aims to investigate the core role of work-related factors and individual staff attitudes to such initiatives, and evaluate the impact of them on employee and organisational outcomes. Both qualitative and quantitative longitudinal methods are utilised to investigate a public sector collaborative platform involving South Yorkshire agencies.

The project outcomes will help generate a richer empirical understanding of the employee factors at play in this context, generate recommendations to enhance collaboration and provide a better-informed foundation for a broader, national-level proposal for the study of interagency collaborative platforms.

Aims: Working with a UK interagency collaborative platform which is currently being introduced, the research will explore three perspectives

  • The attitudes of the involved staff towards the initiative, as well as the factors that may influence these attitudes (e.g. autonomy, job characteristics, leadership style, organisational commitment).
  • The outcomes of the initiative in terms of the quality and quantity of work (e.g. speed and accuracy of case processing) and the collaborative capacity of the network (e.g. information exchange, knowledge transfer, creativity in decision making).
  • The effects of the initiative on the work engagement and wellbeing of the staff involved.

Funding: This 17-month project has been awarded £9631 from BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants

Investigating team: Kamal Birdi, Laura Dean, Samuel Farley, Kristin Hildenbrand, Evelyn Lanka, Karina Nielsen, Queyu (Quennie) Ren, Tobias Stadler, Anna Topakas, Peter Warr (all IWP).

Measuring General Practice Productivity

There is a continuing need in the NHS to make the best use of resources available for the best possible outcomes. Despite most initial contacts happening within primary care, systems for measuring the performance of general practices are extremely limited, with the main mechanism for doing so (the quality and outcomes framework - QOF) criticised for being too narrow, with other indicators (ONS, NICE, CQC) similarly incomplete.

Productivity in health care is defined as a ratio of outputs to inputs, adjusted for the quality of outputs based on measures such as patient satisfaction, waiting times etc. Despite considerable development of measures of productivity covering secondary care, measures for primary care remain at best crude or at worst absent. In this study we are developing and testing a measure of primary care productivity that can be applied across all general practices in England. We are using a procedure based on the well-tested ProMES methodology (Productivity Measurement and Enhancement System), in which the views and experience of general practice staff and patients are gathered using a series of intensive workshops. This leads to the creation of a measure, which is being pilot tested in 50 practices across England, and evaluated using a survey and interviews to determine its feasibility and usefulness. This will result in a robust and valid measure, developed by practitioners and public that can be applied across GP practices more widely.

Funding: £554,695 is provided by the National Institute for Health Research (Health Services and Delivery Research programme). The project runs from June 2015 to November 2017.

Researchers: The project is being led by Professor Jeremy Dawson (IWP), with co-investigators from the King’s Fund (Professor Michael West, Professor John Appleby), the University of Leicester (Professor Richard Baker), local GP practices (Paul Wike and Michelle Wilde), and two independent members (Dr Lee Adams and Amanda Forrest).

Click here to read more about the project.

New developments in organizational interventions, new evaluation models – a Nordic, multi-disciplinary co-creation approach

In the organizational change literature, a distinction is made between episodic and continuous change. Continuous change is described as emerging, ongoing and endless, as cumulative processes of small changes, involving constant modifications and stressing adaptability (Weick & Quinn, 1999). It can be argued that organizational interventions - that is intentional change in the way work is organized, performed or managed to improve important outcomes (e.g. organizational performance, employee health) - have generally been approached as episodic changes: intentional, static (the content of the change stays constant), infrequent, interruptive, goal-seeking (movement toward a specific goal) and with a clear beginning and end (Weick & Quinn, 1999).

When organization-level interventions are viewed as episodic, evaluation frameworks following the traditional intervention research paradigm – emphasizing prospective, controlled designs – make some sense (Kristensen, 2005). However, the complexity of organizational settings means that the traditional evaluation models are insufficient to uncover how continuous changes work, for whom, under what circumstances etc. The lack of appropriate evaluation models is the primary motive for this network.

Co-creation and integrated approaches are current themes in organizational intervention research. Co-creation involves collaboration between actors within organizations and between researchers and practitioners, and integration stress that interventions needs to be made part of daily operations within organizations. Such approaches are well-established in the Nordic countries through the Nordic work organization tradition, however, its implications for evaluation have not been considered. Co-creation and integration makes the change process continuous rather than episodic. The existing evaluation theories and frameworks, however, are primarily developed for episodic changes. This calls for new models to make sense of how organizational interventions work. Concurrently, the emphasis on co-creation of knowledge, rather than dissemination of knowledge, has implications for research policy. The network will host a series of workshops to develop new evaluation frameworks. The format for workshops, i.e. will involve researchers both at junior and senior positions, evaluators and practitioners meets the second objective of the call. Such involvement is fundamental given that co-creation is central to why new evaluation models are needed. The network transcends traditional research fields and brings together key players from occupational health, organizational psychology, implementation science and change management.

Funding: The project has been awarded SEK 437.00 by The Joint Committee for Nordic research councils in the Humanities and Social Sciences (NOS-HS) and runs from January 2017 to December 2019.

Researchers: Professor Karina Nielsen is a senior adviser on the project that is led by Professor Ulrica von Thiele Schwartz, University of Malardalen, Sweden. Other partners include Dr Kasper Edwards, Danish University of Technology, Denmark.

Perfect Patient Pathway: Programme Evaluation

The “Perfect Patient Pathway” Test Bed aims to bring new benefits to patients with multiple long-term conditions in the Sheffield City Region through the combination and integration of innovative technologies and pioneering service designs. This aims to keep such patients well, independent and avoiding crisis points which often result in hospital admission, intensive rehabilitation and a high level of social care support. The Test Bed is being led by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and is funded by NHS England.

As part of this funding, a programme evaluation is being run by a team from the University of Sheffield (based mainly at ScHARR, but with Professor Jeremy Dawson working jointly across ScHARR and IWP). This uses quantitative and qualitative methods (including tests of intervention effectiveness and health economic modelling) to examine whether there is evidence for both the individual technologies, and combinations, having a demonstrable impact on patients.

Researchers: The evaluation team is led Dr Steve Ariss (ScHARR), with co-investigators Professor Jeremy Dawson (IWP) and Dr Matthew Franklin (ScHARR). The project runs from March 2016 to March 2018.

Click here to read more about the project.

Promoting Teamwork Skills in Higher Education: The Behaviour in Teams (BiT) Analysis Project

The ability to work in teams is among the most desired skills employers look for when recruiting graduates. In spite of this, teamwork education within universities often fails to equip students with the skills they need to work effectively in teams. The Behaviour in Teams (BiT) analysis project aims to provide students with a repertoire of verbal behaviours that they can use in teamworking situations. This is done by giving students feedback on how often they use specific verbal behaviours during teamworking situations, along with advice on how they can adopt new behaviours in the future. A short-cycle approach to providing feedback is adopted, involving the systematic collection of real-time data from the observation of dyadic or group interactions, and the use of that data as a feedback mechanism to guide the future behaviour of those observed.

The BiT project aims to produce tangible outputs for three main constituents:
1. Students
2. The University of Sheffield
3. Researchers interested in team process feedback

Funding: The project has been awarded £800,000 from the Rackham foundation and £130,000 from the Vice-Chancellors strategic development fund.

Researchers: Professor Jeremy Dawson and Visiting Professor Rod Nicolson are principal investigators on this project. Dr Sam Farley and Dr Daria Hernandez-Ibar also work on the project, with further guidance provided by Visiting Professor Neil Rackham and Rose Evison.

Provision of qualitative research study on organizational-level interventions reducing the negative effects of restructuring on employees in large company establishments in the EU

Restructuring is becoming a permanent feature in the economy and labour market of today. From research it is clear that restructuring can have a profound effect on the wellbeing of employees that continue working in the organization after the restructuring. How an organizational restructuring affects the well-being of the remaining workers depends on the type of restructuring, but also on how the restructuring process is managed and on the measures a company has taken to support employees before, during and after the restructuring process.

The general objectives of this project are three-fold:

  1. To provide a better understanding of the implementation of organizational-level interventions introduced in company establishments to offset the negative effects of restructuring on the remaining workforce
  2. To assist practitioners in the implementation of effective organizational interventions during restructuring
  3. To raise awareness among policy makers of the importance of organizational interventions investing in the remaining human capital for healthier restructuring and inform policy developments in the area

Funding: The project has been awarded £79.000 from Eurofound and runs from March 2017 to December 2017.

Researchers: Professor Karina Nielsen (IWP) is senior adviser on the project that is led by Dr Noortje Wiezer, TNO, The Netherlands.

Psychosocial work environment during organisational changes - an intervention project

Organisational change is a recurrent theme in many organisations. Organisational change can have a significant impact on employee health and well-being and on the organisation’s performance. There is therefore a need to develop and implement tools that can facilitate a successful implementation of the change to process to ensure both organisational performance and employee health and wellbeing.

The aim of this three-year research project is to explore how a competence development intervention can ensure the successful implementation of LEAN in a large Danish organisation. The competence development intervention focuses on equipping line managers and change agents with the necessary competencies to implement LEAN through a process characterised by a clear vision for change, open dialogue and involvement of employees.

Funding: The project has been awarded DKK 3.800.000 by the Danish Work Environment Research Fund.

Researchers: Professor Karina Nielsen (IWP) is a co-investigator on the project that is led by Dr Johan Abildgaard from the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Copenhagen.

Reducing newly-qualified driver crash risk: Identifying behavioural targets

The study addresses road traffic crashes in the early months of driving. During 2013 crashes claimed 1,713 UK lives and seriously injured 21,657; a human tragedy that cost the economy £14.7 billion (Department for Transport, 2014). Novice drivers are the highest risk motoring group. Crash rates peak immediately after obtaining a licence and decrease quickly over the next few months (McCartt et al., 2009). For example, in the Department for Transport’s Cohort II study, crash risk fell 40% in the first 6 months and 35% in the next 6 months (Wells et al., 2008). Little is known about how driving behaviour changes to improve safety. In order to inform intervention development we aim to identify the behavioural mechanisms that place newly qualified drivers at high crash risk.

This project seeks to identify how driving behaviour changes to become safer as a result of experience. This information can inform interventions to give novices the lower crash risk of more experienced drivers from the outset of their driving careers.

The existing literature identifies behavioural predictors of crash involvement (de Winter & Dodou, 2010; Rowe et al., 2015) but existing instruments do not identify the behaviours that underlie the reduction in crash liability observed in the first few months of driving. While crash rates fall over this period, performance on the existing behavioural measures paradoxically changes little or even becomes more dangerous. A new driving behaviour measure is needed to understand how experience leads to lower crash involvement. Once the behavioural changes have been identified then they may become the targets of training and legislation to provide new drivers with the lower crash risk of more experienced drivers.

This project takes a fresh approach to measuring behavioural changes during the early months of driving. Qualitative methods will elicit subjective accounts of how behaviour changes in high-risk situations for novice drivers. A quantitative study will then objectively test whether the identified behaviours are safer in more experienced drivers and whether they relate to crash involvement.

Funding body: MRC

Researchers: Dr Chris Stride is a co-investigator on the project that is led by Prof Richard Rowe from the Psychology Department, University of Sheffield.

Click here for information on individual staff members.