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Research and Projects

Healthy Workplaces

Who is involved?

Theme: CLAHRC - Healthy People, Healthy Environments
Status: Complete


Workplaces offer a promising context in which to target healthy behaviour change as most working age people will spend a large number of their waking hours at their workplace with their colleagues.

To understand what the barriers and facilitators in workplaces are to staff health and wellbeing the research team conducted interviews with businesses that have been recognised for their healthy workplace programmes. From this work the main enabler to healthy workplace initiatives appeared to be making healthy workplaces “an ethos not a target”, as one participant phrased it: Workplaces with a successful healthy workplace programme had created a healthy workplace culture.

A whole-system approach seeks to understand the workplace in terms of whether the culture or context encourages or limits healthy staff behaviour. Following the principles of complexity theory a workplace is conceived of as a whole-system of inter-related parts that behaves in complex ways. Through these complex dynamics a workplace will self-organise in to certain patterns of staff behaviour that may or may not be conducive to staff health and wellbeing. Which patterns emerge in a given workplace will depend on the particular characteristics of that workplace, including, for example, the nature of the interactions between the staff and the shared priorities, beliefs and values they operate according to. To create a healthy workplace for staff we can intervene to enhance those characteristics of a workplace system that encourage and support the emergence of healthy adaptive behaviour patterns, for example supporting communication between staff at all levels of the organisation.

UK Healthcare professionals have higher levels of sickness absence, dissatisfaction, and burnout than workers in other sectors and the NHS currently employs roughly 1.2 million people, making it the largest employer in the UK and the third largest in the world. Despite targeted interventions to support the health and wellbeing of healthcare professionals sickness absence in the NHS continues to rise. The research team is working closely with an NHS hospital to create a whole-system intervention to support the health and wellbeing of staff in this workplace.

Project aim

To develop and explore the effect of a whole-system Wellbeing on Ward (WoW) intervention framework to improve staff health and wellbeing of NHS ward staff.

We worked with the European Centre for Environment and Human Health (ECEHH) to develop and examine an NHS workplace health and wellbeing intervention through focus groups and interviews with NHS staff:

  • A systematic review into the impact and benefits of whole-system interventions for NHS workforce mental and physical health and wellbeing: their impact and benefits in terms of health and wellbeing
  • Development of a whole-system WoW intervention ‘framework’ with which to interrogate characteristics of individual wards that are enablers or barriers to healthy ward staff behaviours
  • Design of health and wellbeing interventions tailored to individual NHS wards based on these findings
  • Examining the feasibility and effectiveness of our general WoW whole-system framework and the resulting tailored interventions on the health and wellbeing of NHS ward staff. 

Current position & next steps

The project leads, Katrina Wyatt and Sarah Brand, have developed the WoW whole-system intervention framework based on the principles of complex adaptive systems theory, and conducted interviews with NHS ward staff from one ward in order to apply the framework to this particular ward. The next step is to carry out a process and feasibility examination of the whole-system intervention framework with further wards.

The study produced a systematic review and publications reporting on the development and the feasibility and effectiveness of our whole-system approach to NHS ward health and wellbeing intervention development.

Future work will build on current work by formally examining the whole-system framework intervention in an exploratory trial involving four NHS wards from the Royal Cornwall Hospital.


Others Involved

Professor Lora Fleming, Dr Jo Thompson-Coon, Dr Sarah Brand, Alison Bethel, Jane Abraham