A University of East Anglia project funded by PrOPEL Hub has researched how far managers feel organisations should go in efforts towards workplace wellbeing. In this first article on the project, Andrea James explains the findings of the first question on the survey: who has responsibility for wellbeing in the workplace?

We asked our survey participants – UK managers across the private, public and third sectors – where they felt responsibility lay for dealing with different types of issues commonly experienced by workers. This was on a spectrum from total responsibility for the organisation or total responsibility for the worker themselves:

Top 5

  • Bullying in the Workplace
  • Discrimination in the Workplace
  • Back/musculoskeletal problems caused by work
  • Stress caused by high workload
  • Worker uncommunicative and resistant with manager

On average, managers ranked workplace bullying highest as the responsibility of the employing organisation. Amongst our top 5, the theme seems to be issues that had an easily recognisable, demonstrably negative effect on the employee and were rooted directly in what happens within the workplace.  On average, these were strongly identified as the responsibility of workplace management and there was far less emphasis on individual responsibility.

Bottom 5

  • Discrimination outside the workplace
  • Stress caused by personal relationship issues
  • Bullying outside the workplace
  • General poor physical fitness
  • Poor housing/living circumstances

Issues that might be ascribed to wider society (discrimination and bullying that take place outside of the workplace) ranked in the bottom 5 alongside others that were more firmly positioned by managers as ‘personal issues’: stress from personal relationships, generally poor overall fitness and poor living circumstances. While these are on average seen as more ‘personal’ than organisational responsibilities, it should be recognised that all of these external and personal circumstances could of course impact on workers’ ability to focus on and perform well at work.  

Responses showed the most divisive questions were in relation to disability, splitting across physical disabilities, clinical anxiety, and addiction. This disparity is interesting given the legal requirement to make reasonable workplace adjustments to ensure people with disabilities can carry out their work.

We are exploring in our ongoing research what could account for these starkly contrasting responses. For instance, managers from workplaces which have already invested in improving mental health literacy may also have a higher tolerance for mental health concerns related to workplace wellbeing and may have a more holistic approach to tackling these problems, beyond an individual focus.  

Still time to take part in the conversation

Our project is not yet quite at an end! We must finish collecting all data on 31st January 2023, but in the meanwhile, we are still very keen to hear from as many UK managers (any sector) as possible. You can participate in a confidential online interview by contacting either Helen Fitzhugh (h.fitzhugh@uea.ac.uk) or Andrea James (andrea.james@uea.ac.uk) to find a mutually convenient time before January 31st. Or, you can fill in the survey and leave your email address at the appropriate point. We look forward to hearing from you.

Watch this space for future articles drawing on the findings of this research!

(These are interim findings of the first question on our survey. The survey will close to data on 31st January. There were 24 items to rank within the question. The lists above are based on averages across the curren cohort of 63 respondents – UK managers across the private, public and third sectors).