Work and wellbeing: what works?

learning-main-image.pngThe Work and Wellbeing: What Works? series of briefings look at different aspects of wellbeing and work, and make recommendations for turning evidence into action.

All our evidence is based on systematic reviews of all published research around the world, making it the most comprehensive available.


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Factsheet for employers: Why invest in employee wellbeing?
(May 2017)





Job quality and wellbeing (April 2017) *NEW*

Read the full systematic review in the journal Ergonomics



learning at work and wellbeing (April 2017)




Unemployment and (re)employment and wellbeing (March 2017)




Retirement and wellbeing (Feb 2017)

What does the evidence tell us about job quality?

There is inconsistent evidence that deliberate attempts to improve job design lead to improvements in wellbeing. Working with the University of East Anglia, we investigated the role of other employment practices, either as instruments for job redesign or as instruments that augment job redesign.

Looking primarily at wellbeing, but also taking performance into account where it was obsered int he studies, we found that both may be improved by:

  • training workers to improve their own jobs
  • training coupled with job redesign
  • system wide approaches that simultaneously enhance job design and a range of other employment practices.

There is not enough evidence to make any firm conclusions about the effects of training managers in job redesign. Where interventions were successful, there was evidence that workers were involved and engaged; managers were committed to interventions; and any changes were integrated with other organisational systems.

What does the available evidence tell us about learning at work?

The study reveals that regardless of what kind of training is used, the majority of techniques had a positive impact: from mindfulness to problem solving, life skills to happiness.

The review also found that in some sectors, training to improve professional capabilities, such as emotional intelligence or conflict management, may also have positive wellbeing benefits for the learner. However, the evidence was mainly focused in the health sector and the evidence base needs to be developed.

The learning process could be the key to success. E-learning may be cost effective, but early evidence suggests that leadership or manager support training was more likely to offer wellbeing benefits when the online training included interactive elements, rather than only self-directed training.

The review draws on evidence from the UK and other similar developed economies. This is the first time a systematic review has shown which types and formats of training are most effective to support wellbeing in addition to learning. The review was conducted by a team based at the Universities of East Anglia, Sheffield, Reading and Essex.

The evidence supports the effectiveness of wellbeing training. However, this is part of a more complicated picture and training employees to better cope is not the end of the story. Wellbeing is also highly dependent on job quality, including autonomy and social relations, where employers should focus effort.

What does the available evidence tell us about unemployment and re-employment?

  • Unemployment is damaging to people’s wellbeing regardless of their age, gender, level of education, ethnicity or part of the country in which they live. The longer the time unemployed, the worse the effect. 
  • People do not adapt to unemployment, their wellbeing is permanently reduced.  This is unusual as it is not the case for most life events.
  • Men’s wellbeing is more affected by the incidence and duration of unemployment. 
  • Wellbeing may decline further for young people, particularly if the spell of unemployment is longer. 
  • Unemployment not only affects the person who lost their job, it also reduces the wellbeing of their spouse, especially female spouses. 
  • Re-employment leads to higher wellbeing.

What does the available evidence tell us about retirement?

The way we retire matters for our mental health and wellbeing.

While we might assume packing work in and heading into retirement might make us happier, this research says how and why we retire is important to our wellbeing.

Also, who we are makes a difference: mes struggle more with wellbeing, especially if their wife* continues working.

The systematic review examines the global evidence base of mental health and wellbeing research. Half of the studies reviewed find that retirement was associated with improved wellbeing, however the other half showed no improvement in mental health or wellbeing and in some cases a worsening. 

The study found that ‘bridging jobs’ could make retirement happier. It suggests that employers should support older workers to ‘wind-down’ into retirement with the choice of bridging jobs or reduced working hours. 

The most important factor is control over retirement timing. Being forced to retire due to restructuring or ill health is negative for mental health and wellbeing. Those who take up bridging jobs because of financial strain showed lower wellbeing.

The study also found that:

  • leaving a more prestigious, satisfying job decreased your life satisfaction on retirement
  • predictably, retirees who are satisfied with their home lives and had support networks fare better
  • those with a higher education tend to benefit more from retirement.
* Based on a longditudinal study findings that started in the 19xx?, which didn’t reflect same-sex or non-marital partnerships.