Following the Applied Research Conference 2017 hosted by Strathclyde Business School in Glasgow, we summarise a selection of conference papers that were published.



Article review

Employers and the real Living Wage – responding to civil regulation, Edmund Heery, Deborah Hann and David Nash, 2018.

Evaluating the impact of a brief mindfulness intervention to reduce early signs of compulsive internet use for long-hours workers, Cristina Quinones, 2018.

The myth of devolution? The role of HR practitioners in the management of workplace conflict, Virginia Fisher, Sue Kinsey and Richard Saundry, 2018.

Why become a Living Wage employer?

At the end of 2017, there were 3,752 accredited Living Wage Employers in the UK. An estimated 135,000 workers have directly benefited from this, ‘with the total transfer of value to low-wage workers amounting to about £400 million’. Drawing on a 2016 population survey of all accredited Living Wage Employers, this article by Professor Ed Heery and colleagues from Cardiff University presents insights into why employers choose to become accredited with the Living Wage Foundation and what benefits and challenges they perceived from doing so. 

Signing up to the Living Wage is a decision most often driven by organisational values and the desire to be a socially responsible employer. In line with this, the greatest perceived impact from accreditation is seen to be in the employer’s reputation. Other positive effects included that being a Living Wage Employer helped recruitment and retention. Negative effects included increased costs of wage and subcontracting, and reduced wage differentials leading to challenges in recruiting to supervisory positions. 

Overall, while there were a number of perceived benefits for employers, these benefits tended to be modest in size. However, negative effects of Living Wage accreditation seem to be fewer and even more modest. Seven out of ten employers see the benefits to outweigh the challenges.

Mindfulness: a solution for the ‘always-on’ culture?

Technology that enables us to work remotely can aid flexibility but, in eroding the traditional 9 to 5 working day, can make it more difficult to switch off from work. This can contribute to work-related stress and ultimately anxiety and depression. In this article, Dr Cristina Quinones from the Open University Business School presents the results of a randomised controlled trial of short daily exercises to see how they can help people recover from work and avoid falling prey to the ‘always-on’ culture. 

Employees working over 40 hours a week were randomised to three groups: a mindfulness intervention, a gradual muscle relaxation intervention and a control group that received neither intervention. Both the mindfulness and muscle relaxation interventions involved participants signing up to daily ten-minute practice for two weeks. They were designed to take a minimal amount of time, to help people incorporate it within their working day.

The trial found that both interventions reduced compulsive internet usage compared with the control group. However, only the mindfulness intervention improved people’s ability to focus on the present moment. Quinones argues that ‘A small investment of time … can really make a difference to prevent stress and help people to use technology in a healthier way – thus having a busy life is no longer an excuse’.

Is conflict management really devolved to ‘the line’?

Workplace conflict is managed best when it is nipped in the bud early. In part because of this, conflict resolution is seen as the type of ‘transactional’ activity that is ripe for devolution to ‘the line’. However, this article by Dr Virginia Fisher and colleagues from the University of Plymouth argues that this can be questioned on various grounds. 

Drawing on qualitative research into the attitudes of HR practitioners, the authors first describe the common ambition of HR functions to devolve HR responsibilities, freeing them up to focus on ‘strategic’ issues such as ‘creating long-term people plans, around the capability of the business, around succession planning’ and so on. 

One reason conflict resolution may not be devolved in practice is that managers are neither properly prepared nor incentivised to take on this responsibility. They can lack confidence in handling conflict because technical competences are prioritised over people management skills in selecting and developing managers, and can be ‘reluctant to address and resolve conflict at an early stage’ because operational pressures loom larger and demand their attention.

Another reason is that HR practitioners find it hard to let go of control. HR functions were often seen to take ‘nannying’ or ‘policing’ approaches. Issuing point-by-point guidance and requiring managers to fill in forms and submit information through online systems were seen to hinder managers’ autonomy and development. Indeed, contradicting the rhetoric of devolvement, this lack of trust was viewed as ‘deeply embedded in the psyche of the HR profession’.

The authors argue that HR professionals should maintain an active role in managing conflict and, furthermore, given the importance of fairness and relationships in good people management, that this should be seen as a strategic issue.

Reviewed by

Jonny Gifford, Senior Adviser for Organisational Behaviour

Jonny has been conducting applied research into employment and people management for a number of years, with previous roles at the Institute for Employment Studies and Roffey Park Institute. Current interests include job quality and behavioural science insights into performance management and other areas of HR. Jonny runs the CIPD Applied Research Conference and actively promotes evidence-based practice, including through systematic reviewing and running randomised trials.

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