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An extraordinary achievement – Dr Angela Carter awarded Lifetime Achievement Award

Thursday, June 8th, 2017


Angie Carter is not your average academic.

Her untraditional route to the top is a story of passion, tenacity and patience which has recently been acknowledged with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology (EAWOP).

As a long-standing member of the Institute of Work Psychology at the Management School, Angie’s career has been underpinned by a drive to develop learning in others. She said: “It’s a passion of mine to apply learning to practice. I’ve decided that the biggest success I’ve had isn’t just imparting learning to other people – it’s encouraging others to do so. Some of the people I have supervised (practitioners and PhD scholars) are supervising others now, and that’s extraordinarily nice to hear.”

Angie’s first foray into teaching was at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London – having trained in radiotherapy, she enjoyed developing people in a technical and a caring job. It was the 1980s and the hospital told her to ‘go out and get a degree’, which she embarked on part-time: “I really enjoyed the part of my work that was about communication with people – I’d been teaching ultrasonographers how to talk to their patients, so psychology appeared to be the most obvious thing for me to do.

“I caught the bug and knew I wanted to do more research after that.”

Her legacy in London continues, as she was one of the team who established a regional school of radiography which still exists in Charterhouse Square.

Redundancy from her job in the health service was a catalyst for change: “I started teaching leadership and management in the early 1990s. Twenty-plus years later, I’m still teaching leadership and management! So it’s interesting how things go around.

“Redundancy was a real schism in my career that took me into further study. I had an opportunity to do what I wanted to do – I met people from the Institute of Work Psychology and came up to Sheffield to apply for a research assistant role looking at the first big stress study in healthcare. Got that, and my PhD four years later. And here I still am!”

Volunteering for professional associations like EAWOP and the British Psychological Society (BPS) has shaped Angie’s career for decades. After time spent on the BPS’s international committee, she was invited to join EAWOP’s executive committee on which she spent six years, one of the driving factors behind this award: “I got to meet fantastic people but built an unhappy image of the continent. If you look at Europe from the Western side, we have strong educational pathways, well-formed practitioner-academic roles, and work psychology is buzzing. Go further East, and it’s much less so.  Not only is there more poverty, but there isn’t a defined academic core of study.

“They just don’t have the opportunities – academic salaries are so low that work psychologists have to practice, so they don’t have time to do much research. There’s a flattening of ability, and as I met people there through EAWOP, we formed a group called the Baltic Alliance. I brought them together, enabling better funding for educational and research projects. They all became EAWOP constituents and one of my roles in the executive committee was to expand these numbers – I started with about ten, and left with 34. I expanded the scope of EAWOP, and what it could achieve.”

Building constituents was just the beginning of Angie’s EAWOP journey. While developing these links across Europe, she was working with practitioner Ute Schmidt-Brasse to develop a practice-based journal for the association – they’re now into their ninth year of publishing In-Journal, and it goes from strength to strength. Angie also established the Worklab, an annual meeting for work psychology practitioners with a minimum of two years’ experience, which again aims to bridge the gap between research and practice.

Back in Sheffield, Angie contributes to the Management School’s Masters in Occupational Psychology and Work Psychology, running a module called Applying Psychology to Work and Organisations. The module is assessed by a portfolio based on ten elements of practice that make a good work psychologist. She said: “The portfolio makes the applied learning more real for students and prepares them for their future work roles.”

“There are a number of challenges facing graduates – my advice would be not to just chase ‘any job’ – pursue an area of work that you’re passionate about. Use every opportunity you can to network and make contacts – we offer extraordinary opportunities for students that may mean a little bit of work outside the general curriculum, but you’ll get noticed.”

Angie considers ‘getting real’ as a concern for work psychology as a whole, particular post-recession when organisations are still keeping a close eye on the bottom line: “What worries me is that a lot of areas of research are too narrow and don’t look at the big picture facing business now, which is how to get the best performance from employees so organisations can achieve their goals in tough times.

“I think there’s a reality check that needs to happen – we need to research the big important questions, rather than things companies don’t want to know about. They’re interested in engaging, but they need to see that engagement relate to performance.”

The study of organisations is shaping Angie’s research now. She’s looking at youth employment – why businesses choose not to employ young people, what they don’t understand about the 18 to 24-year old demographic, and what they’re missing out on: “There are two sides, and until we start researching the work side of employability, we won’t get an answer to the big questions of getting young people into good work roles.”

The Lifetime Achievement Award from EAWOP is a wonderful summary of Angie’s career – recognising her voluntary work and contribution to the lives of work psychologists around the world. The Management School is incredibly proud of her exceptional contribution.

IWP celebrates its award-winning cohort

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016


Congratulations to Kester Poon, MSc Occupational Psychology graduate who won both prizes associated with the Institute of Work Psychology’s programmes at winter graduation, held on 13 January 2016. He was awarded prizes Best Student and Best Dissertation, sponsored by Arup and Pearn Kandola respectively.

Dr Carolyn Axtell said: “It is unusual for a student to receive both prizes, but Kester’s outstanding performance across the course as a whole and within his dissertation made him a worthy winner for both. He has graduated with Distinction and achieved the highest overall programme score within his cohort. His dissertation examined the role of manager flexibility in the implementation of HRM practices.”

Kester (pictured above, left) was employed by the Ministry of Defence in Singapore prior to the MSc and has returned there since finishing the course. His role allows him to apply knowledge from different areas of Occupational Psychology – ranging from selection, to training analysis and evaluation, to organisational behaviour, statistics and employee satisfaction and wellbeing.

Kester said: “The MSc has been an invaluable experience in refreshing and updating my knowledge in these areas as well as in the forging of networks with peers, academics and practitioners alike”.

Another recent graduate, Joel Ockwell (pictured above, right), was invited to the Indigo Gold Innovation Awards in 2015 to present details of his dissertation project which looked at scoring methods for situational judgement tests. These awards look at how innovative the project is along with scoring based on academic credibility and how transferable the work is to current and future commercial environments. The judges were impressed with Joel’s thorough analysis and he was put through to the final round of discussions, before finally being named as runner-up.

Joel had worked with Pearn Kandola on developing alternative scoring systems after successfully applying for a Sheffield University Management School company-based dissertation project. Since graduating he has been putting his learning to good use after accepting a job offer from PriceWaterhouseCooper where he is working as a Business Psychologist on selection and assessment practices.

IWP Conference 2016 – submission deadline extended to 7 December 2015

Monday, November 30th, 2015

Attendees now have more time to submit their work to be considered for the Institute of Work Psychology’s International Conference 2016.

The deadline for submission has been extended to Monday 7 December 2015 – and it’s easier than ever to upload your work.

Dr Eva Selenko, Academic Chair of the conference, said: “We’re delighted to keep paper submissions open for the conference in June, which will look at how work and occupational psychology can make a difference, with a particular focus on work, wellbeing and performance. The conference always attracts a lively and varied selection of papers and presentations and we look forward to reviewing them in the new year.”

You can find guidelines, as well as the submission form, here.

The conference has attracted a number of high profile keynote speakers, including Prof Gillian Symon, Prof Rolf Van Dick and Prof Michael Leiter. Find out more here.

Comment: Are age and unhappiness related? By Peter Warr

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Hard Evidence: are age and unhappiness related?

Originally published on The Conversation

If it’s no fun getting old, then why do surveys of national well-being show that older people are happier than younger people?

Recent research into happiness, questioning people about their lives as a whole, their jobs, family, social activities and other aspects, has started to reveal some intriguing patterns. New data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that older people tend to be happier rather than more miserable than younger people. But looking at ONS data in more depth reveals an even more interesting pattern

Between the ages of around 20 and the decade between ages 40 to 50, people score progressively lower in measures of happiness on average. But after the middle years of their life, that trend is reversed so that average happiness becomes steadily greater, until it levels off when people are about 70.

This age pattern in the UK parallels that found in other high-income countries, although in other regions the curve is not present in the same way. In high-income countries it is visible in broad assessments of life satisfaction and (with increases in the middle years) through reports about recent worry or stress. It also exists within particular domains of life: job satisfaction and job strain are respectively lowest and highest in the middle years of our lives. And the U-shape is broadly similar for men and women, although the diagram below illustrates that women tend to worry more than men.

Proportion of respondents who reported that they experienced a lot of worry yesterday, based on data in Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index Poll
Steptoe, Deaton and Stone, The Lancet

Surveys of this kind generate averages from different people, and we cannot assume that all people will travel along the average route. Longitudinal research into happiness over a life-span has not yet been possible, and research has not directly indicated that one variable – age – is causally determining the other – happiness.

It does seem likely that age contributes in some way to positive or negative feelings, but the number of years since birth cannot directly cause anything. So we need to look for other, possibly causative, factors which may change with age.

Happiness and the environment

Happiness is of course hugely influenced by external factors, and many investigations have identified several which may contribute to the relationship between happiness and age.

As adults move towards middle age they often take on additional job and family responsibilities and can be increasingly troubled by job insecurity and future career uncertainty, as well as by childcare and commitments to elderly relatives. Conflicts between roles can become unusually great in these years, and income can increasingly fail to meet people’s needs.

Studies have found that people need to have some influence on what happens to them and what they do to avoid distress. They are unhappy being merely a pawn manipulated by other people and events, and they want to be able to take steps to reduce strain and enhance their enjoyment of life.

But the opportunity to influence your surroundings can be substantially impaired in your middle years because of conflicting demands made by other people and the roles you have taken on. You can feel particularly hemmed in by your situation.

This, alongside other aspects of a person’s environment, can depress happiness in middle age. But why does it improve, on average, after then? In part, it is because people move on to different stages of life, when demands on their time and money, experienced uncertainty and other negative features tend to decline. As children grow up, job and other activities become established and care-dependent relatives pass away, people’s happiness on average increases.

Personal influences on happiness

But feelings are not entirely determined by what happens to you – they also depend on how you interpret your world. People respond differently to many aspects of the environment, in part through mental filters such as those illustrated below.

Looking at number three in the table, “upward” comparisons (against alternatives which are seen as better than your own situation) encourage unhappiness. Yet sometimes thinking about ways in which life could have turned out worse (making “downward” comparisons) can lead to more positive feelings.

Often mental comparisons involve other people, such as number one in the table. In our 20s “upward” comparisons with other people are common – keeping up with the Jones’s, or checking body shape against celebrities. But in later years reduced levels of striving can be accompanied by more “downward” comparisons. As people move beyond middle age they increasingly review their life so far, often finding “downward” alternatives which can improve their happiness.

Particularly important for understanding why happiness may increase in the later years are processes of mental adaptation. Biological and psychological studies have shown how responses to a stimulus become diminished after repeated presentation. This means that unpleasant conditions can become viewed less negatively after a period of time.

For stimuli that are new, cognition (what you think) and affect (how you feel) tend to be closely intertwined. But after a period of adaptation they may become uncoupled: you may be just as aware of what’s going on, but your feelings become more neutral. As features and events in your life become increasingly familiar they tend to generate less intense emotions, perhaps contributing to a gradual increase in happiness with increasing years.

Together, the combination of these two sets of factors – changes in what life doles out and shifts in the interpretation of those events – can provide some explanation of the U-shape pattern in happiness across ages.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We are 40 – our MSc Occupational Psychology celebrates four decades of success

Friday, September 25th, 2015


The Institute of Work Psychology (IWP), part of the Management School, has plenty of reason to celebrate this academic year.

Ahead of the biennial conference from 21-23 June 2016, the MSc Occupational Psychology programme has celebrated its 40th anniversary. Long-standing staff, and the programme’s new cohort, joined programme founder Professor Peter Warr for a short talk about the history of the MSC Occupational Psychology and IWP in general, followed by celebratory cake.

Prof Warr’s talk covered the history and development of the field of occupational psychology in the UK, and expressed to attendees how fundamental the University of Sheffield’s Social and Applied Psychology Unit (later to become IWP) was in establishing national recognition and generations of researchers – many of whom are still at Sheffield.

In June 2016, the fifth IWP International Conference will take place, focusing on cutting-edge research and theoretical contributions from all areas of work and organisational psychology, with particular focus on the areas of work, wellbeing and performance.

Held primarily at the Management School, the team hopes to see similar success to the 2014 event where we welcomed over 200 delegates from across 36 countries.

Read more about the conference here.

What’s your problem? IWP expert launches innovative solution-finding app

Friday, February 6th, 2015


Taking a creative approach to solving problems can really lead to powerful new innovations, according to over a decade of research by Sheffield University Management School’s Dr Kamal Birdi.

Dr Birdi’s CLEAR IDEAS framework has been used in training private, public and third sector organisations all over the UK, and is now set to go worldwide with the release of the new CLEAR IDEAS iPad app which guides users through the innovative problem solving process.
Working within the Institute of Work Psychology at Sheffield University Management School, Dr Birdi has seen significant cost-saving, efficiency-raising results in organisations he’s worked with such as the NHS, local councils and emergency services through a visiting training programme. He said: “CLEAR IDEAS is a way of tackling problems more creatively. It’s not just a way of helping you come up with more ideas; it will also help you pick which ideas to take forward and will assist you in putting those ideas into practice more effectively.

“Lots of innovations or creative efforts fail because the individual doesn’t come up with enough original ideas, doesn’t know how to pick which ideas to take forward, can’t get buy-in to their ideas or know how to implement them.

“As a result, some potentially great ideas fail because creativity and innovation aren’t taken into account well enough. So what the CLEAR IDEAS approach does is it helps develop the skills and knowledge in people in terms of how to tackle problems creatively, and come up with an innovation. The app is a way of embedding that process that you can carry out yourself – give it a problem, and it will take you through ten steps you need to go through to come up with new ideas, picking those ideas, and coming up with a strategy for implementing them.”

Now the approach is available on iPads, users such as professional managers can put their problems to the test on the go – perhaps on a commute, or in the spare half-an-hour before a big meeting. It doesn’t require an internet connection to go through the CLEAR IDEAS app process, so there’s no need to worry about unreliable WiFi or 4G blackspots either.

The CLEAR IDEAS method has seen such success through training workshops, Dr Birdi is excited to see it rolled out to a wider audience: “CLEAR IDEAS was a model that was developed 10 years ago, based on years of research looking at what makes for successful creativity and innovation in organisations – and as well as bringing that research to life, making it more proactive and applicable.

“We have been training hundreds of people, in lots of different organisations using this methodology, so the app is one part of a new toolkit which will help open up the approach to many others. We know from evidence that we’ve gathered that using the approach can help develop new services and more efficient ways of working, for example with the help of CLEAR IDEAS a local council redesigned an adult social care service which they’ve estimated has saved over £1million in its first year of operation.

“It’s an ongoing process as more and more organisations use our methodology, and the CLEAR IDEAS app is a way of helping to make the model accessible to more people.”

You can download the CLEAR IDEAS app for £4.49 here:

Employees behaving badly – IWP leads the charge

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

On Tuesday 25 November Dr Christine A. Sprigg gave a talk to the Humber Branch of CIPD on ‘Employees Behaving Badly: Is it too costly to ignore?’.

Approximately 50 members of this local branch CIPD battled the fog to attend the talk on Christine’s own previous research on bullying and cyberbullying (the latter with Sam Farley et al), and updated them on recent academic research on why bullying occurs at work and what are the consequences of it for employees and organisations.

Christine was then joined by Lee Whiting, Partner at Bridge McFarland Solicitors, who gave a linked talk on the legal aspects surrounding bullying and harassment at work.

Christine commented: “This was a wonderful opportunity to talk directly to HR professionals from a diverse range of public and private sector organisations about both my own research, and recently published research from others. I enjoy getting out and about, and hearing about the difficult real-world bullying and harassment scenarios that employers and employees have to commonly deal with.”

IWP student success at national conference

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Image credit: Alex Pilsworth / BPS Division of Occupational Psychology

Beatrice Redfern, MSc Occupational Psychology graduate at Sheffield University Management School (pictured above), has received an award for her MSc research project.

Members of the Management School’s Institute of Work Psychology (IWP) were present at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology (DOP) conference to celebrate Bea’s achievement, which was presented at a ceremony in London on 17 November. The DOP awards celebrate achievement and excellence in practice and research in the field of occupational psychology.

Student awards are given to individuals at undergraduate and postgraduate level who have submitted projects that make the most valuable contribution to the field of occupational psychology in the 21st century. Bea’s joint second-place in the Student Prize for Excellence was for her project titled ‘Putting innovation into context: Exploring the impact of contextual factors on the relationship between individual factors and innovative behaviour’.

The student prizes at the DOP conference are sponsored by Pearn Kandola, one of the UK’s leading business psychology consultancies, specialising in assessment, development and diversity.

Well done Bea! Congratulations from all at the Management School.

Image credit: Alex Pilsworth / BPS Division of Occupational Psychology

Culture of cruelty – IWP discuss bullying in HE

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

Two members of the Institute of Work Psychology (IWP), PhD student Sam Farley and Dr Christine Sprigg, have added comment to the recent discussion on the culture of bullying in higher education.

Published on The Guardian online’s Higher Education Network, their article has been widely shared and discussed in academic circles.

Approaching a number of key areas, including ‘what causes bullying’, ‘undermining behaviour’, and ‘how can employees beat bullying?’, the piece not only discusses recent research into the topic, but offers advice to those who may be affected.

Read the article in full here.

Could you become a destructive leader?

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Destructive leadership in the workplace – many workers could identify a time where they think they’ve experienced this.

As part of his Antecedent Project, Peter Crellin, a doctoral researcher in the Institute of Work Psychology at Sheffield University Management School, sought to answer the question, ‘what causes destructive leadership?’.

With the certainty that the behaviour of followers, or fellow workers, could have something to do with the emergence of destructive leadership, Peter has set up a virtual workplace simulation to test users’ behaviour against his ideas.

Peter said: “After a couple of fruitless tests, the question became ‘how can we easily immerse people in an experience that will allow them to behave genuinely’. The answer was a Computer Simulation of an Actual Workplace (CSAW) – the product of several months of tailored graphics creation and programming.”

The CSAW is designed to create specific work scenarios that players react to. Peter created scenarios that were designed to see if he could elicit potentially destructive behaviours – the user assumes the role of ‘leader’ in a team of four followers, and is randomly allocated to a situation to do with popularity, workload or staff productivity. These scenarios were variable, so for example sometimes they were popular, other times there was low productivity amongst followers. The programme allowed users to communicate with their staff through emails.

Peter continued: “Users connected emotionally with the programme, through systems such as the emails. For example, if they were unpopular in the office they received three emails, two of which explicitly excluded them from social situations and one which directly outlined how much the player was disliked by their team.

“On top of that, each player had to make a number of choices regarding rewards – promises of promotion, training opportunities, bonus increases, positive appraisals, drinks rounds, and chocolates – and punishments – redundancy threats, reduced training, bonus decreases, lunch hour reductions, and negative appraisals – whilst monitoring operational and logistical matters, and incoming emails. Players were also free to write to their staff viaemail if they wanted to, and had to choose to make one member of staff redundant at the end of the working day.”

The programme collects a great deal of data which Peter is still analysing, but it has become very clear that engagement from users has been much higher than with previous test attempts. Users quickly attributed personalities to their followers as well as reasons for their behaviour, both of which were created by the computer so therefore should ignite no reason or discernable traits.

Peter concluded: “We are delighted with results from the CSAW – it has opened up a new avenue for research in this area. Users’ behaviour moved quickly and they were very much immersed in the virtual world – they agreed that they were drawn in and that they had experienced genuine emotional reactions to the simulations.”

For more information on Peter Crellin’s projects, visit:

See the programme in action: