Some Opportunities for Future Business and Management Research: Employee Health and Well-Being

Glass office block with venetian blinds closed for all offices except two in the center
(Photo: wal_172619 /Pixabay)

The pandemic of the last two years has accelerated the trends that were beginning to emerge pre-pandemic: the move toward flexible or hybrid working (Norgate & Cooper, 2020), the role of the line manager in enhancing employee health and well-being (Cooper & Hesketh, 2022), the length of the working week (e.g., the social experiments in Sweden, Iceland etc., and at organizations like Microsoft in Japan and the supermarket chain, Iceland), how communication technologies are transforming the way we work, and the link between healthy employees and productivity. There are now so many research opportunities for business school researchers to make a difference in these and other emerging trends and issues, to answer the many questions coming from employers about the impact of these changes on employee behavior, on productivity, on labor turnover and talent retention, on the economic and other bottom-line outputs, and, ultimately, on the health and well-being of employees as well as on the organization itself.

This is the fourth of seven posts excerpting and adapting the SAGE Business white paper “Measuring Societal Impact in Business & Management Research: From Challenges to Change.” The white paper includes a core section, written by Usha Haley and Andrew Jack, and complementary essays penned by Ben McLeish and Mike Taylor of Altmetric / Digital Science, Sir Cary L. Cooper at the Alliance Manchester Business School, Renate E. Meyer, WU Vienna / Copenhagen Business School Maura L. Scott, Florida State University.

As most organizations move toward the hybrid model of working where employees work between their homes and offices, this will have a profound impact on the role of the line manager, who will have to manage staff, some of whom will be ‘in the office’ whilst others will be ‘working from home’ (O’Meara & Cooper, 2022). We will need line managers who have well-developed social and interpersonal skills to manage a flexible workforce, managers who can team-build in this hybrid model but also who can ensure that their direct reports have manageable workloads, realistic deadlines and are coping with the increased demands during the pressured business recovery period post-pandemic. The year before the pandemic started, the UK Government’s Health & Safety Executive reported that 57 percent of long-term sickness absence was for stress, anxiety and depression. During the pandemic, the Office of National Statistics reported even higher levels of anxiety and depression (roughly 63 percent) in their large national well-being survey (these UK figures are roughly the same in many developed countries as well).

Research, therefore, is needed to evaluate systematically how effective the training and recruiting of managers with high levels of social and interpersonal skills (e.g., emotional intelligence, empathy, etc.) are in terms of positively enhancing bottom-line indicators (e.g., labor turnover, productivity, sickness absence, etc.).

Secondly, but linked to this, is research that highlights both the positive and negative aspects of hybrid working by sector, the impact on the potential loss of creativity and innovation as a result of the loss of regular face-to-face contacts in the office (e.g., the water-cooler effect), and the impact of the four-day working week and other variants of the working week (e.g., the short compressed week) on employee health and productivity. And although some studies have been carried out on these issues, they have been done on public sector workers and few on private sector employees.

Thirdly, in exploring the important ‘productivity puzzle’ that many countries have been grappling with for over a decade, how significant is the human factor (e.g., the line manager, hours of work, effective teams, etc.) in enhancing productivity in contrast to better equipment and machinery, enhanced IT (e.g., broadband) and the other physical infrastructure factors? At the moment, most research has concentrated on the ‘infrastructure factors’ and not the ‘people factors’ (Bevan & Cooper, 2022). We must also consider what the evidence on the impact of a well-being culture is based on, i.e., not just the health and well-being of employees but also on bottom-line factors like labor turnover/job retention, performance, shareholder value, sickness absence, presenteeism and the mental well-being of employees.

John Ruskin wrote in 1851, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, “In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it, and they must have a sense of success in it.” One hundred and twenty years later, Studs Terkel wrote about the stresses and strains of the thousands of American workers in his acclaimed book, Working. Summarizing the state of play in the 1970s, he wrote, “work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor, in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Meanwhile, occupational psychologists, HR academics and other social scientists have a long way to go to enhance employee health and well-being and help solve the proverbial productivity puzzle!

Posted And Upcoming Articles In This Series

A Quick Examination Of Existing Academic Impact Metrics And Concerns In Business Education” | Usha Haley and Andrew Jack

“A Decades Long Journey of Marketing and Public Policy Research to Support the Greater Good” | Maura L. Scott

“How Might Societal Impact be Recognized within an FT Top 50 Journal?” | Renate E. Meyer

“Why Don’t Business Schools Publish More Impactful Research?” | Ben McLeish And Mike Taylor

“Efforts To Turn The Tide” | Usha Haley and Andrew Jack

“Medium And Short-Term Recommendations To Move Forward” | Usha Haley and Andrew Jack

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Cary L. Cooper

Sir Cary Cooper CBE is the 50th Anniversary Professor of Organizational Psychology & Health at the Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester.

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