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Here’s our blog about the ESRC PrOPEL Hub Conference 2024, when we welcomed researchers, policy stakeholders and workplace experts to the University of Strathclyde to discuss how workplace practice can support employee wellbeing, engagement, innovation and productivity.

The ESRC: Economic and Social Research Council ‘Productivity Outcomes of Workplace Practice, Engagement & Learning Hub’ – PrOPEL Hub – launched in 2020, bringing together experts from ten universities in all four nations of the UK, along with The CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development. ESRC PrOPEL Hub generates and shares insights on how effective workplace practices and progressive people management can deliver better jobs and workplaces, improved employee engagement and wellbeing, and enhanced innovation performance and productivity.

Over the last four years, ESRC PrOPEL Hub partners have disseminated key insights from a series of cutting-edge research projects supported by the ESRC’s portfolio: ‘Transforming Productivity: Management Practices & Employee Engagement’. These projects have produced major new contributions to evidence on: ‘what works’ in workplace wellbeing strategies; good practice in conflict management; people management and job quality strategies that support work engagement and innovative work behaviours; and how we can support management capacity-building that can improve productivity in micro-enterprises.

We have also connected with other ESRC PrOPEL Hub partners generating their own important research insights on issues ranging from how to generate usable job quality data; effective performance management; the benefits and challenges of remote working; and how managers assess data to inform investments in web-based technologies.

By the end of summer 2024, ESRC PrOPEL Hub teams have delivered more than 70 online and in-person events and activities, engaging directly with more than 4,000 business and policy stakeholders and impact-oriented researchers. We have demonstrated that cutting-edge research can be converted into actionable intelligence that impacts in the workplace when we invest in the right kind of innovative Knowledge Exchange practices and tools.

During March our two-day conference in Glasgow shared what we have learned and discussed insights for business stakeholders and implications for policy. We were excited to welcome more than 80 researchers, HR practitioners and policy and business stakeholders.

Research and knowledge exchange to promote Fair Work, better job quality and wellbeing

Presentations on Day One included our Strathclyde Business School colleagues Professors Patricia Findlay and Colin Lindsay PhD, MCIPD, FRSA sharing insights from impactful research with more than 30 organisations demonstrating that Fair Work practices adopted by employers are associated with benefits in terms of wellbeing and engagement; and then their KE Associate colleague Dr Nicola Murray (PhD) discussing how the University of Strathclyde team have developed toolkits to work with more than 400 managers and employees to support job crafting as a route to improved wellbeing. Our Cardiff University / Prifysgol Caerdydd ESRC PrOPEL Hub colleagues Professor Alan Felstead and Rhys Davies then shared insights about how their How Good Is My Job? online quiz has reached thousands of employees. This has enabled the Cardiff team to analyse job quality across a range of sectors and occupations, while their impactful work has empowered line managers and employees to talk about how different dimensions of Fair Work can benefit people and businesses.

Our ESRC PrOPEL Hub colleagues from the University of East Anglia – Dr Helen Fitzhugh and Professor Kevin Daniels – presented evidence from the ground-breaking Evolve Workplace Wellbeing project, which has helped employers across a range of sectors to consider ‘what might work’ in workplace wellbeing, and the costs and benefits of tailored interventions.

It was great to hear about how the work of the ESRC PrOPEL Hub connects with and complements other UKRI investments, with our University of Glasgow colleague Professor Graeme Roy joined by researchers undertaking workplace-focused projects as part of the ESRC’s Transforming Working Lives agenda (Dr Stewart Johnstone) and The Productivity Institute (Professor Patricia Findlay), as well as Dr Maria Wishart of the Enterprise Research Centre (UK) sharing important research on the relationship between mental health and productivity. Our Day One discussions concluded with a debate on what policymakers can do to promote fair work, previewing key insights from work towards an ESRC PrOPEL Hub Manifesto to be launched by our team later this year.

Co-creating impactful tools for workplace transformation

The ESRC PrOPEL Hub has always been about converting robust, cutting-edge research into actionable intelligence to inform progressive workplace practice. Day Two of our conference focused on the innovative tools and interventions that ESRC PrOPEL Hub researchers have developed and implemented to facilitate their engagement with thousands of workplace stakeholders. Our Aston University colleagues Professor Cher Li and Professor Monder Ram shared very different approaches to influencing management practice, with Cher’s work (carried out with our University of Nottingham colleague Professor Richard Kneller) testing out ‘nudge’-like approaches by providing business leaders with tailored performance analysis to influence decisions on technology investments contrasting with the intensive capacity building work that Monder and team have conducted with small groups of ethnic minority business leaders. Both approaches have demonstrated the potential to deliver positive impact.

We also heard from Professor Paul Latreille BSc PhD FRSA FLPI MCMI CMBE, The University of Sheffield and Professor Peter Urwin, University of Westminster about the extraordinary Skilled Managers project, which has tested the impact of online conflict management training for line managers and may prove to be one of the most impactful ‘Knowledge Into Practice’ activities supported by ESRC PrOPEL Hub.

A highlight of the conference was hearing from our team of KE Fellows who have done much of the work to build the innovative and impactful tools that have helped our teams to engage with thousands of business leaders, managers and stakeholders. Dr Nicola Murray of Strathclyde Business School, Dr Keira O’Kane of Ulster University and Dr Helen Fitzhugh, University of East Anglia described the sort of online and in-person impact instruments that ESRC PrOPEL Hub has pioneered – from ‘hacks’ with groups of employees and leaders within businesses, to ‘hackathons’ and ‘Knowledge Into Practice’ days bringing together the diverse expertise of PrOPEL Hub researchers with multiple business leaders, to tailored thematic online content that has reached a wide audience interested in transforming workplace practice.

We also discussed the importance of workplace researchers working closely with HR practitioners, with Professor Martin McCracken of Ulster University sharing his experiences of supporting evidence-informed people management practice, and Katie Stickland of The CIPD reiterating the Institute’s commitment to collaborating on impactful research to inform HRM. Our partnership with The CIPD has been crucial to the success of the ESRC PrOPEL Hub and we are hugely grateful to Katie, her predecessor Meryl Levington BA MA FRSA (now a much valued colleague at the University of Strathclyde!) and all The CIPD colleagues for their insight and support.

The ESRC PrOPEL Hub has demonstrated that a committed group of academic researchers can turn cutting-edge research into actionable intelligence to drive transformative change in the workplace. It’s been exciting to engage with, inform and learn from thousands of people managers, business leaders and workplace stakeholders. Our team is looking to the future and the next steps in co-creating evidence-informed change that can benefit people, organisations and our economy and society.