ESRC PrOPEL Hub has been a bridge to boost productivity and wellbeing in public and private organisations. This has been possible by transforming the outputs of cutting-edge research projects into practice. PrOPEL Hub has exchanged knowledge and provided practical lessons to the organisations through different deliveries such as hackathons, toolkits, podcasts, blogs, and free online courses. 

Our ESRC PrOPEL Hub conference was held at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow on 15th and 16thNovember 2022. The event brought together expertise in Human Resource (HR) practices from nine different universities across the UK, the CIPD HR practitioners and policy makers. More than 75 attendees from public and private institutions participated in the event. 

Over the last two and a half years, ESRC PrOPEL Hub associates have been working together to disseminate 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.  

The two-day conference was a space to discuss and identify PrOPEL Hub insights and legacies, next steps for business stakeholders and implications for policy to driving forward the workplace productivity agenda. The following are the main reflections from each session of the conference 

New insights on workplace practices for engagement and productivity post-Covid 

  • Professor Patricia Findlay from the University of Strathclyde provided insights about Management practices, work engagement and workplace innovation for productivity and wellbeing. She emphasised that job quality and fair work are drivers of work engagement, productivity, and innovation. 
  • Rhys Davies and Professor Alan Felstead from Cardiff University highlighted that remote working is definitely here to stay. Their research found that remote work enhanced autonomy and improved work-life balance. However, this could also be associated with intensification and extensification. 
  • Professor Martin McCracken from Ulster University stated that having authentic conversations to understand employees and teams at the workplace enhanced engagement and performance post-COVID.  

What works? Workplace practices for promoting wellbeing and managing conflict.

The following were tools that emerged as outputs from evidence-based research: 

  • Professor Sara Connolly and Professor Kevin Daniels from University of East Anglia provided insights about a toolkit which is a business cost effectiveness calculator. This toolkit offers a bundle of possible investments that can be used by HR practitioners to implement and evaluate new wellbeing programmes. 
  • Gill Dix from ACAS, Professor Paul Latreille, University of Sheffield, and Professor Peter Urwin, University of Westminster discussed new approaches to managerial training to deal with conflict at the workplace. They said that “Conflict costs employers more than £1,000 for every UK worker each year.” They have developed an online training intervention to boost conflict resolution. This training includes videos, podcasts, simulations, a toolkit and a bookable 15 minute 1-2-1 consultations.

Delivering impact: Using evidence to impact management capabilities for productivity 

  • Anwar Adem, Professor Richard Kneller and Dr Cher Li from Nottingham University highlighted that experimental methods are powerful to quantify the effects improved performance data on management decision making. 
  • Professor Monder Ram from Aston University stressed the lack of research about support for microbusinesses to enhance productivity in the UK. Professor Ram stated that microbusinesses should implement HR development programmes by accessing initiatives of learning and development through an inclusive approach.

Building the evidence base on workplace practices for productivity: Connecting withinsights from other ESRC investments 

  • Professor Julia Rouse, Director of Good Employment Learning Lab from Manchester Metropolitan University, highlighted that a challenge was neglecting the importance of line managers. Therefore, line managers need to develop their skills by embedding them in new practices to boost productive work. This could be by learning in contexts or participating in experiments that enable manager development and change. 
  • Professor Chris Warhurst from the University of Warwick and ReWAGe stated that job quality investments have the potential to drive productivity. He also emphasised that there were issues in defining productivity because this measure depended on the context, the individuals, groups, firms, industry, and nationality. 

Innovative approaches to impacting with managers, employees, and key stakeholders

  • In this session, the Knowledge Exchange Associates and Fellows of each project explained how to transfer evidence-based knowledge into actionable insights. Dr Helen Fitzhugh from the University of East Anglia stressed the importance of translating and transferring research outcomes to companies, practitioners, and policy makers. 
  • It is possible to transfer knowledge to the stakeholders of a research project by clarifying concepts, producing takeaways, and providing space for the participants to decide their own actions. 
  • Knowledge Exchange professionals are not consultants or lecturers. They facilitate relationships with the practitioners to generate a real impact on their organisations based on quality research outcomes.  

Key stakeholder voices: How the ESRC PrOPEL Hub has impacted in the workplace 

Employer representatives, business and policy stakeholders discussed their engagement with ESRC PrOPEL Hub researchers and how this impacted their organisations. 

  • Lois McMurtie form French Duncan stated that their participating in PrOPEL Hub activities had helped them to engage younger employees in innovation.
  • Victoria Carson from The Wise Group highlighted they connected with PrOPEL Hub because “they used the language of business” which made the project successful.
  • Louise McCosh from FD People explained they were able to innovate more by supporting the wellbeing of their employees and giving them a voice.  
  • Aileen McLeod from Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) suggested that her  company participated in PrOPEL Hub research led by the University of Strathclyde because they wanted to achieve their ambitions toward decarbonisation. They were trying to find ideas that helped people who worked in the energy sector to open up to new work approaches.

Key stakeholder voices: Building a knowledge exchange ecosystem and progressing a manifesto for productivity

  • Jonny Gifford, Senior Advisor of The CIPD, highlighted the importance for of the outcomes of research being accessible, applicable, and transmitted with the right language. 
  • Damien Smith from ESRC highlighted the importance of inter-disciplinary approaches to productivity research. 
  • Daisy Hooper from CMI highlighted the importance of supporting management capabilities and skills at the frontline to enhance productivity. 
  • Professors Alan Felstead from Cardiff University, Patricia Findlay from University of Strathclyde and Graeme Roy from University of Glasgow led a discussion on the need for policymakers and public agencies to rethink their contributions to the workplace productivity agenda. 

If you could not participate in the event, the PowerPoint presentations can be accessed HERE: