Wellbeing training at work and wellbeing: what works?

Olga_TregaskisFollowing the publication of our recent briefing on what makes a learning at work and wellbeing , we hear about the systematic review of the evidence from Professor Olga Tregaskis, part of our Work and Learning research team at Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia.

The joy we feel when we master a new skill; the sense of accomplishment we get from ‘a job well done’; the buzz we get from helping others; or the fading of our anxieties as we see solutions yield results. This is wellbeing.

We might reasonably expect, then, that training that provides a route for employees and leaders to master their skills and knowledge base would yield dividends for wellbeing. However, in reality the evidence is conflicting.

As part of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, we carried out a systematic review of all the available evidence on learning at work. It looked at all countries comparable with the UK, and started with an initial pool of over 4,000 studies, which we whittled down to the most relevant and methodologically robust.

The evidence tells us that what is effective is wellbeing training focusing on developing an employee’s personal resources to cope with high demands. The evidence base is robust and we know that it works across a range of industry contexts, at least in the short-term. However, we also know that when the route causes of these demands stemming from poor job quality, are not addressed then wellbeing diminishes. This makes it clear that personal resources training is not enough on its own.

The specific focus of effective studies was diverse: problem solving, psychological flexibility, sleep training, happiness training, mindfulness approaches, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), stress management, resilience training, meditation awareness training (MAT), relaxation training, psychosocial skills training, empowerment and life skills. Since all of these reported positive effects this would suggest that the particular focus of this kind of training is not important.

When it comes to professional training, the evidence is weaker. Much of this type of training enhances learning of specific work and professional skills; what’s lacking is spillover into enhanced worker satisfaction or reduced anxiety in work.

In the research, we looked at interventions that focussed on developing work competencies, alongside wellbeing, through improving work skills on conflict management training, psychosocial intervention training and workforce development to equip staff to deal with stress.

One of the success stories in this area studied by Leon-Perez, Notelaers, and Leon-Rubio (2016) was an example of a training program on conflict management for 258 health care workers. Staff were voluntarily enrolled in the training program which was delivered in eight three-hour group training sessions over the course of four months and a further three-hour follow up session two months later.

Participants were trained to deal with conflict at work with colleagues and patients and their families, the course involved:

  1. emotion management
  2. interpersonal communication and assertiveness skills
  3. problem solving skills.

In comparison to a control group of 243 health care employees in similar roles, the group that had received training reported less conflict with staff, patients and relatives. This was further supported by fewer recorded absences from work and fewer requests for third party mediation in conflicts at work. The training programme was also effective in reducing complaints from patients. This underlines the potential of learning interventions where professional competencies overlap significantly with wellbeing outcomes.

Perhaps the most surprising finding in our review is the unclear evidence of the impact of leadership training, or training that’s part of wider organisational change programmes. Given the strategic significance of leadership training and change programmes to organisational performance, the omission of evidence on their impact on employee wellbeing is considerable.

Two key explanations for the conflicting results with leadership training seem to lie in design and the wider context.

Firstly, the design of the programme: those  that showed an impact on wellbeing used more extensive adult learning principles. These included group-based peer to peer learning alongside self-directed learning.

Secondly, many of the leadership programmes took place in a wider context of change, where a climate of major organisational change, job insecurity and high stress/demands are cited as potential reasons why the learning intervention was not successfully implemented.

Even where the evidence showed unequivocally positive impact – i.e. developing employees’ personal resources – there are lessons to be learned on improving how training is carried out and supported.  Of the four studies that showed no effect, three of these studies used online, computer-based methods that involved self-directed learning, one of them also included some offline support but this was not really used. Poor engagement with the learning process due to a combination of the self-directed nature of the environment and competing work demands were likely to be key factors explaining the lack of impact.

Given that most of the new learning we do as adults, beyond school, takes place in the context of work, the potential for training and development to contribute to our wellbeing is a real opportunity. Yet the evidence suggests our learning programmes, whilst increase our works skills or our personal resources in the short term, are not necessarily making us happier. Can we design for wellbeing as well as learning, which could deliver sustainable workforce capability for the future.

Mindfulness in the workplace: The state of the evidence

Tim photo 1Next Tuesday 18 April the Centre will be sharing the fourth in our series looking at the evidence on wellbeing and work. Last week, we published learning at work, a briefing on different wellbeing training approaches and their impact in a range of workplaces. In this blog Tim Lomas, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London, takes an in-depth look at the evidence one training identified in our review: mindfulness.

It is nearly 40 years since Jon Kabat-Zinn created his pioneering Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme for chronic pain, and it would probably not be overstating the case to say that mindfulness has since become culturally ubiquitous in many countries.

Based on the Buddhist notion of sati, mindfulness has a potent twofold meaning, referring to:

  • a form of non-judgemental present moment awareness that can be beneficial to wellbeing
  • meditation practices designed to help people cultivate this state.

Such was the success of MBSR that it began to be used in relation to other clinical populations and issues, and soon gave rise to other mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy designed to prevent relapse to depression. Since then, its use truly started to proliferate, used across a wealth of contexts, from schools to prisons to workplaces.

My colleagues and I looked specifically at the workplace in a new systematic review of empirical studies of mindfulness in occupational settings. Casting our net widely, we were not only interested in Randomised Control Trials (RCTs), but any peer-reviewed paper that reported on data in relation to mindfulness, including correlational and qualitative studies.

Our aim was also broad: in addition to exploring the impact of mindfulness on standard mental health metrics, like measures of stress, we also sought data on any outcome relating to wellbeing, for example, job satisfaction and performance.

An initial search yielded 721 potentially relevant papers. On closer inspection, this was winnowed down to 153 papers that met our inclusion criteria. These included 112 intervention studies – i.e. featuring participants completing an MBI – including 48 RCTs, and 41 non-intervention studies. These involved a total of 12,571 participants.

The studies covered a range of occupations, although over half, about 82, involved healthcare-related occupations. Overall, the quality of these papers was not optimal, with many failing to adequately report key details, such as the details of the MBI. What’s more, there was a great range of differences among the studies, both with respect to the MBIs used and the outcomes assessed. This made comparison difficult.

However, despite these issues, there were enough high quality trials to allow some tentative conclusions to be drawn.

Firstly, mindfulness was associated with good mental health outcomes, particularly with respect to anxiety, stress, and distress, although the results were more equivocal for burnout and depression. In addition, it was associated with a range of other metrics pertaining to wellbeing, including physical health, relationships, emotional intelligence, and resilience, as well as various aspects of job performance.

That said, it is worth noting that mindfulness may not suit or benefit everyone, and indeed may be counterproductive for some people at certain times (e.g., research has found that people dealing with particular mental health issues may have difficulty introspecting in the way encouraged by the practice, and could feel worse as a result). As such, if offering it in occupational settings, the evidence suggests that this should be done carefully, sensitively, non-prescriptively, and through skilled and experienced teachers.

In that respect, organisations interested in implementing MBIs should check the latest guidance offered by leading institutions such as the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. Despite such caveats, there is a growing evidence base to suggest that mindfulness can have real value in occupational settings, enhancing wellbeing and performance across a wide range of domains.

Learning at work and wellbeing: what works?

learning-cover-thumb

Click here to download the new Learning at Work briefing

Or view all the briefings in the Work series so far

 

What does the new briefing on learning at work tell us about how we best develop and learn in our workplace, whether it’s an office, hospital ward, factory or anywhere else?

The main message from the research, which looked at 41 studies, is that wellbeing training works, at least in the short-term. And if you’re torn between getting in a mindfulness trainer or Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, or any of the other 15 wellbeing courses listed in our briefing for your work, the evidence shows that they all have a positive impact.

What’s more, even professional development training, which doesn’t explicitly focus on wellbeing as an outcome, could have wellbeing benefits. This is especially the case where professional skills overlap with wellbeing skills. For example, conflict management training for healthcare workers to help them deal with challenging situations with patients was also effective in reducing conflict with colleagues, improving staff wellbeing and performance (Watson et al., 2017; Leon-Perez et al., 2016). The evidence base needs to be developed here, because much of it comes from the health sector, but findings indicate there are no adverse effects.

What did seem to affect the impact of workplace learning was whether the training – regardless of whether it’s wellbeing, professional or leadership – had interactive elements. This could include dialogue with a learning facilitator, or peer-to peer learning such as group reflection or discussion. Each of the successful online trainings incorporated these kinds of social elements to the learning process alongside online delivery. Self-directed e-learning alone was found to be less effective at improving wellbeing. Although, again, we need to to see more evidence for this finding: since the original studies our review draws its evidence from were carried out, there have undoubtedly been advances in technology and how e-learning can be delivered.

This chimes with the broader evidence base on learning and wellbeing, which tells us that the opportunity to reflect, share experiences, learn from others are vital adult learning principles, beyond the educational outcomes.

There’s a caveat to the review: much of the evidence focuses on job roles that place a high demand on social relationships in service delivery, such as carer, health, education or sales roles. We need to build the evidence base for job roles where social relationships, while important, may not be the primary focus, for example in the technology or creative industries.

And then we come to the other main takeaway from the briefing: training employees to cope better is not the end of the story. Wellbeing is highly dependent on job quality: the tasks which staff do day-to-day and their experiences on the job. This includes our relationships with our colleagues or clients, and the ability to influence workload and decisions.

Employers need to make sure any wellbeing training is part of a larger programme of improving job quality. And we’ll be publishing a new briefing on what works to improve job quality later this month.

New Board Appointments and Evidence Call on Housing

Board & Advisory Appointments

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is pleased to announce four new Board member and one new Advisory Panel member appointments.

We are delighted to welcome new Board members

  • Sarah Blunn, Partner and Head of Corporate Real Estate at RPC
  • Paul Najsarek, Chief Executive Ealing Council
  • Charlotte Pickles, Deputy Director and Head of Research at Reform think tank
  • Eleanor Budden, Head of Health and Insurance for Goldman Sachs EMEA

and new Advisory Panel member

  • Dr Fiona Adshead, Chief Wellbeing Officer at Bupa

Evidence call: Housing Intervention Evaluations

What’s happening?

What Works Centre for Wellbeing, with the University of Sheffield, are carrying out a systematic review to find out how well housing interventions work to improve the wellbeing and quality of life of people with vulnerable housing status. We are particularly interested in housing interventions designed to tackle homelessness and create sustainable tenancies. 

The review team will be doing a careful search for published material, but would also like to include ‘grey’ literature – such as evaluations that have yet to be published, or reports and evaluations produced by charities, housing associations, government departments, or community groups.

How can you get involved?

If you are aware of an evaluation of a housing intervention, you can submit it to our systematic review and help us build an evidence base for housing interventions.

We are particularly seeking evidence that meets the following criteria:

  1. Evaluation studies with assessments of wellbeing taken before and after the housing intervention – this is to allow us to determine whether the intervention was associated with any changes in wellbeing.
  2. Evidence that includes comparison groups that did not participate in the housing intervention is particularly welcome.
  3. Evaluations of housing interventions designed for people with a vulnerable housing status which does or does not have an explicit wellbeing aim.
  4. Qualitative and quantitative evidence is welcome.

All examples must be written in English and include an author and date. We can only include evidence which can be made publicly available. If the work was done outside the UK, it would be helpful if you could tell us something about how relevant you think the findings are likely to be to the UK housing system.  

Please send your submissions electronically to the What Works Centre for Wellbeing evidence@whatworkswellbeing.org with the subject line ‘Evidence: Wellbeing and Housing Interventions’

All submissions should be received by 31th May 2017.

The protocol is on PROSPERO

 

What can children in the care system tell us about their wellbeing?

Professor Julie Selwyn is a Professor and Director of the Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies at the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol. Here, she shares the findings from the new report she co-authored, Our Lives, Our Care: Looked after children’s views on their well-being.

There were 70, 440 children in care in England as of 31 March 2016, according to the Department for Education. The majority of children enter care because of parental abuse and neglect and often enter with physical, emotional and behavioural difficulties as a result of traumatic experiences. Every year ‘outcome’ data are collected and published by the Department for Education on children’s educational achievements, offending, mental health, and number of teenage pregnancies.

Children’s experiences not heard across system

Generally, children in care do not achieve the same level of academic success as their peers and are much more likely to have problems with crime, drugs and have poor mental health. Consequently, the care system is often viewed as failing but there is no systematic collection of information on how children feel about their lives in care. Nor do we know whether children in care emphasise the same aspects of their lives as being important to their well-being, as those identified by children in the general population.

Creating the surveys

In partnership with Coram Voice (a children’s rights charity) and funded by the Hadley Trust, we developed surveys to capture children’s views on their wellbeing. The questions that form the surveys were developed through talking to 140 children in care (aged between 5 and 18 years old) about what mattered to their wellbeing. Some of their concerns were similar to those of any other child but they also had different concerns, such as: the importance of having a trusting relationship with their social worker; their experiences of the stigma of care; understanding why they were in care; and the amount of contact they had with their families.  

From children’s comments, an extensive literature review and discussions with professionals, three surveys were developed:

  • young children aged between 4 and 7 years
  • children aged 8-10 years and
  • 11+years (secondary school).  

Four key domains were identified and their indicators.

The surveys were piloted in schools where cognitive interviewing took place. Questions were not always understood as intended and children under the age of 11 years did not understand questions that asked about their ethnicity.

Children in care also objected to a frequently used survey question that asks about the frequency of bullying. In their view, one incidence of bullying could have a severe effect. The question was altered to focus on impact and asked if children were afraid to go to school because of bullying.

We also tried to observe how long it took for children to get fed up answering questions and start swinging on their chairs! The first pilot in one LA was successful with a 40% return rate and children as young as 4 years old were able to make their views known through having a trusted adult helping them complete. Historically attempts to survey children in care have resulted in very low response rates of around 4-6%.  A brief set of results was sent to every child and a report prepared  for the pilot Local Authority, which acted upon the findings.

Unexpected findings

Following the pilot, six Local Authorities agreed to use the survey with their children in care. Findings from the first 611 children to complete the survey have been recently released.

There are some unexpected positive findings.   

  • Most children (83%) said that life had improved since coming into care.  Children said:   “Want to stay where I am and not go home.” (4-7yrs);   “Better than it was when I was not in care.” ( 11-18yrs).       
  • In comparison with children in the general population more looked after children, boys in particular, wrote that they liked school

While life had improved, children also reported that they often did not fully understand why they had been taken into care. One young person wrote:

“I would like someone to talk to about my feelings and tell me about my past. I would like to see a picture of my dad so I know what he looks like. I would like to see a picture of me as a baby. I have never seen a picture of me. I have a lot of questions that no-one answers.” (11-18yrs)

Children highlighted the importance of having a trusted adult in their lives.   But placements changed and nearly a third (31%) of the young people (11-18yrs) reported that they had been  allocated three or more different social workers in the year.  One  young person’s response to a question asking  ‘What would make care better?’ wrote ‘By not having 14 social workers in three years’.

Wellbeing decreased with age – whilst 7% of the youngest children were unhappy nearly one in five of young people 11-18yrs had low well-being. Factors associated with low wellbeing were gender, feeling safe, liking bedroom, having a trusted adult, taking part in hobbies/activities, worries, not liking appearance and feeling included. A number of policy and practice recommendations have been made.

In 2017, 17 more Local Authorities are using the survey and there will be the co-production of a new well-being survey for care leavers ( 16-23 years).  It is through listening to the voices of children and young people that policies and practice can have a greater focus on well-being enabling children to flourish in care.

For further information on methodology : Selwyn J., Wood, M. and Newman T. (2016) Looked after Children and Young People in England: developing measures of subjective well-beingChild Indicators Research.

Unemployment and (re)employment: what works for wellbeing?

employment-brienfing-thumb

 

Download the second briefing in our Work and Wellbeing: What Works series, unemployment, (re)employment and wellbeing.

 


Kevin_Daniels3Kevin Daniels is Professor of Organisational Behaviour at University of East Anglia and leads the Work, Learning and Wellbeing evidence programme for our Centre. Here, he gives an overview of the findings from our latest systematic review into unemployment, (re)employment and wellbeing and digs deeper into the evidence.

Our latest systematic review looks at the impact of losing, changing and getting a job on our wellbeing. It might seem like a simple relationship – we need to work to pay rent, after all – but in reality our work often means more to us than income alone.

This means becoming unemployed, or finding work, impacts us in profound ways. And not just us as individuals: our families and communities are affected too.

When we asked members of the public, business leaders, trades unionists and others about the wellbeing effects of unemployment and employment the clear priority emerged as improving job opportunities and promoting high quality, sustainable jobs.

Unemployment is damaging to wellbeing regardless of personal characteristics. Longer spells of unemployment are more damaging than short spells to wellbeing and there is very little evidence of adaptation – that is, wellbeing improving as people learn to cope with unemployment.  

unemp-fig1

There are differences in how the length and frequency of unemployment affect men and women.

unemp-fig2

There is also evidence that the damage to wellbeing may be greater for the young, particularly when the spells of unemployment are longer.  This evidence is best highlighted by a piece of research called The Happiness of Young Australians: Empirical Evidence on the Role of Labour Market Experience published in the Economic Record (2005) by Dockery, A.M.

unemp-fig3.jpg
Finally, unemployment not only reduces the wellbeing of the person who lost their job – it can also damage that of those that they live with.

Interestingly, living in an area with high unemployment had a mitigating effect on poor life satisfaction for its unemployed residents. This may be because there is less stigma associated with unemployment where the local unemployment rates is higher, and in the UK this results in a smaller reduction in wellbeing from being unemployed.

The research comes from Flint et al., (2013) which presented evidence using UK panel data of 10,702 individuals, across 347 areas and 17 years, finding that high local unemployment rates reduced the negative effect of unemployment. However, individuals who were unemployed, insecurely employed or permanently sick continued to have worse mental health when compared to individuals in secure employment.

A natural question to ask is “can re-employment help and to what extent?”. The evidence suggests that re-employment can be helpful in eliminating the negative wellbeing effects of unemployment but this is sensitive to job quality.

Reemployment is less rewarding for entry into jobs with less prestige, lower pay, or lower autonomy (Gedikli et al., 2017). What’s more, moving from standard to non-standard forms of employment (i.e. jobs with temporary contracts) reduces wellbeing (Llena-Nozal, 2009).

For policymakers, this translates into a need for continued development not only of strategies to increase employment, but also trying to reduce the impacts of unemployment on people and their families, especially the long-term and youth unemployed. There should be an emphasis on creating ‘entry’ level jobs which offer interesting work that builds skills and offers a career path. Apprenticeships can play an important role, highlighting the potential importance of the new Apprenticeship Levy.

The hidden ‘happiness gap’ in our communities

inequality-thumb

Download Measuring wellbeing inequality in Britain (March 2017)

We are launching this report at the Centre’s Annual Lecture, where Prof. John Helliwell will be speaking on the topic. To follow the discussions live on Twitter, you can use #WBlecture or @whatworksWB.

 


 Wellbeing inequality is a much better predictor of social trust than income inequality.  Given trust is such an important factor in creating cohesive, compassionate societies, it is important we do more work to understand what policies can lower wellbeing inequality.

Professor Helliwell

Wellbeing data tells us how people actually feel about their lives, whether they are thriving or struggling.  Using existing data about health, employment, education, crime and relationships – our wellbeing – in new ways, could help us explain everything from why we voted to leave the EU to what makes us trust our neighbours. But it leaves us grappling with fascinating, and vital, questions: does it matter if there is a big gap between the most miserable and the most happy in our society?  What broader information does it tell us about our society? And if it is undesirable, what policy responses might be useful?

Overall wellbeing inequality in 2014-15 for all local authorities, excluding London

overall-inequality

Advances in wellbeing data infrastructure mean we can now look beyond income inequality alone as an indicator of how people are struggling, or thriving, in daily life. It’s a new concept called wellbeing inequality that is only just taking off in local authorities across the country. As with income inequality, large differences between those at the top  – the happiest – and bottom  – experiencing misery – is a bad thing for society.

An example of how it paints a fuller picture than income distribution: evidence shows it’s been a better measure than income inequality in predicting how different communities voted in the EU referendum. Places that had higher overall wellbeing inequality were more likely to vote to leave the European Union.  The relationship was significant, even after researchers controlled for other variables including median income, income inequality, unemployment levels, education levels and ethnicity.

High wellbeing inequality is also associated with lower trust in society.

Now, the editor of the World Happiness Report, Professor John Helliwell, is over to the UK from Canada, where he led the rallying call for a wellbeing inequality lens in policymaking. His goal? Helliwell is determined to convince local authorities across the UK that if they look at their communities through the lens of wellbeing inequalities, they’ll get a better idea of how people are coping, or not, and why different groups – men or women, young or old, for example – are impacted in different ways.

He is working with the Office of National Statistics and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, part of the national network of What Works Centres informing government policy on key social issues.