User blogs

Tom Francis offers a personal account of the journey that he and his senior team colleagues are undertaking as they make their business ‘fit for the future and fit for people’. Tom is Business Manager at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics in Bristol


The Philosophy

It’s hard to pinpoint a time when our transformation started and when we began to get clarity on what we wanted to achieve, but for the “aha” moment came when I heard the term “fit for future, fit for people”. I think the phrase has been plagiarised from Gary Hamel’s Fit for the Future, and for Human Beings? but for me it sums up what we are trying to do – yes, of course we want to focus on the business (profitability etc.) to ensure that we are here in 350 years (we just had our 350th birthday), but it also puts in equal balance that it has to be a place that is fit for people. By this I mean we want to provide an environment that the whole person can turn up to and contribute, and not just a portion of the person.

We also have our external brand promise which is “making small parts, making a big difference”. When we are talking about transformation we look at it on three different levels – I, We and It:

  1. How do I make a big difference (I)
  2. How do we make a big difference (We)
  3. How does the business make a big difference (It).

I – providing individuals with a safe place where they can understand themselves and their purpose, have balance and fun, and be supported to develop. It’s also about helping to put people in places that make them spark!

We - creating trust and accountability in teams plus open communication and collaboration. We want teams and individuals to have the power to make the right decisions.

It – putting us in the customer’s shoes, understanding what they need and creating innovative products around those needs. It’s also about creating a sustainable future based on the notion that the decisions we make today matter for our tomorrow.

Great in principle, but what about in practice?

Yes, in principle this makes us feel all warm and fuzzy, but what about in practice in the hard light of day? How do we translate this into the business and make changes? The way we use this in our day to day decisions when talking about transformation is more of a check and a guide, plus a way of explaining to people what activities we are doing. For instance, when we are looking at transforming something we can ask – “is this going to impact our business in the future?”, “is this going to positively impact our workplace in making it more fit for people” and “at what level are we looking to make the transformation: I, we or it”.

For instance, in our Bristol site, we recently changed the way we authorise holidays. Now, instead of requesting the day off from your manager, who then has to ask the team and approve, individuals can now book time off with no sign-off. The only stipulation is that they consult the team before doing it. When we look at this example, it has no impact on the business in terms of numbers but it does have a significant, positive impact on making the work place fit for people. It puts trust and accountability in people’s hands, encourages open communication between team members and reduces the bureaucracy associated with a simple request.

It starts with the top . . .

From our experience it is not possible, and unfair to the workforce, to ‘expect’ them to transform without change at the leadership level, so ironically we started our transformation in Bristol in a hierarchical way! I remember Clive Hutchinson from Cougar Automation telling me once (and I am paraphrasing here) – “don’t blame people (especially the dreaded ‘middle management’ group!) for behaving the way they do; blame yourself as a leadership team for creating the environment that creates those behaviours”. I think this is true, and as a leadership team we had to do a lot of development on ourselves before we were able to transform the business.

Although we didn’t know it at the time, we were following the idea of Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team which suggests that building trust is the foundation for a high performing team. Without this you have fear of conflict (people don’t talk about things and you leave elephants in the room) which leads to lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and ultimately inattention to results. We worked on this for a number of months involving offsite management meetings that were about team development rather than daily business. These meetings gradually focused on how we can transform and help the business naturally as trust built up.

Some of the techniques we used during this phase included:

  • Personal journeys: each person sketches out their lives, taking in the highs and lows. You explain your life journey (or as much as you are comfortable with) in groups of three (“triads”) and discuss what you learned from each stage. The idea is that you give your team members a deep understanding of what you have been through in your life, and that gives them a perspective on why you may behave in certain ways in certain situations.

  • Feedback: a facilitated session giving feedback using sad/mad/glad or stop/start/continue so that people can see what the team appreciates about you and also what they would like to see change. The format we started with involved talking about your team as a whole (i.e. “what does the business want your team to stop/start/continue) and then, as the trust built up, we moved on to the individual managers. We would each have a stop/start/continue poster and we all rotated round the room every few minutes so that we each had a chance to write on everyone else’s poster. Eventually this feedback became more natural and unforced to the extent that now the management team appraisal is done as a group.

    A big part of this development is providing support for leaders to work on themselves in overcoming barriers to achieving our goal. A common barrier we came across was the inability to relinquish control. The reasons for this differ from person to person, but it usually stems from past experiences. Each individual is able to find help to overcome this (we’ve tried things like NLP and EMDR). We also noticed that we naturally started forming triads or little groups to help and support each other.

  • Competition: A lot of effort was put into removing the need for competition between management team members. Historically we were encouraged to be the loudest, strongest and the best as we competed for the next step up the ladder. Now we don’t compete, we collaborate and this is far more productive, less destructive and creates a much nicer working environment.

After the leadership team, where did we go?

For us it was organic. As managers became comfortable with the techniques that we were using, they started to cascade them down by having their own offsite monthly meetings to develop their teams. What we have done is very incremental and it’s sometimes hard to remember the sequence, so instead of telling the story I have picked some key things out that I think really helped us on the way:

What we did  What level we worked on  Details 
 Feedback WE: communication, accountability, empowerment One of our managers developed a process called Team Speak.  This facilitated process involves providing the team with space to brainstorm all the issues that prevent them from doing a good job.  The team then prioritise the items (using paired comparisons or similar) and agree the top two things to tackle in the next month (we encourage them to start with the small things first).  The items, when resolved, are moved to the ‘done’ section and the next on the list is selected.  No managers are involved unless they are needed for expenditure (even some managers now have agreed a spend limit within which teams can fix problems).
Focus on strengths I: self understanding We also now help people to find their strengths using tools such as i-styles, Belbin, strengths finder etc, and focus them on roles / jobs within their teams that play to their strengths.  
Put people in the right roles I, We: finding your spark, accountability, collaboration Linked to strengths – start moving people to roles that play more to their strengths.  This is a difficult one and takes time to do, but whenever there is the opportunity, do it!  We even have some people working in different departments to where they are costed now. Don’t worry about making it all ‘official’ providing the person is happy to move: in our experience this can complicate things (especially in the beginning).  Try doing trials and secondments to start with -and you will see the amazing results! 
Volunteer for  Projects I, We: working on strengths, trust, open communication Instead of picking teams, let people volunteer for what they are interested in.  You can start with low impact projects, or perhaps one or two volunteers together with selected people.  Eventually you can create completely volunteer based projects.  The last project (for our biggest strategic project at the site this year) we selected some of the leaders for the subprojects, gave an indication of what skills we needed, then let people volunteer to work on them (we had a day where people could come and talk to us to find out about the project, making sure that everyone had the opportunity to do this).  Why do this?  You can match skills (sometimes that you don’t know about) to projects you are working on, plus in general, people who volunteer to work on things are much more committed to it.
Provide clarity on priorities  It Explain to people what the priorities are each year.  We do this in a number of ways:  
1) We have the major projects priority discussion as an open forum (we are lucky enough to have an open space that allows people to sit round), with a few volunteer representatives from the business taking an active role.
2) We have a monthly company meeting to explain and update people about what is going on.  Part of this is an exhibition style session where representatives of the main projects provide stalls where people can find out about the projects that they are interested in.  In the future we would like the priorities to be gathered from the bottom up and not top down, but we are not there yet.
Train Facilitators   As teams began to become more autonomous we saw the need for good quality facilitation.  We started training a group of people (again volunteers) to help teams facilitate meetings (be it creative, team or other).  Good facilitation helps communication and reduces the likelihood of destructive conflict.


We’ve learned that whatever transformation your business is taking, it is a personal one (we even see differences between our sites). There is no one solution that fits all and it really is about finding your own way. Looking at other companies to get inspiration and encouragement through platforms such as Fresh Thinking Labs is a great way to get ideas and helps and to create a support networks, but ultimately it is down to your business and your culture HOW things are done. But I think the biggest bit of advice I can give is just to try stuff and to talk to each other. Experiment with little things, expand what works and kill what doesn’t. Set time aside specifically to talk about development and tackling issues with the whole company.

We know that we have just started the journey; we are still far away from a company that is fit for the future and fit for people, but each little step towards it is better than not doing anything.

This article by Tom Francis, Business Manager at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics first appeared in the EUWIN bulletin.

For a full list of EUWIN bulletins please visit this page.

Change is inevitable: do you adapt to it or do you lead it?

Organisations of every type need to adapt to an increasingly uncertain future. Reshaping organisations, building new levels of organisational competence, finding new ways to work and future-proofing organisations have become critical factors in determining future competitiveness and performance.

For example we have already witnessed the rapid change in culture, lifestyle and aspirations between the now retiring baby boomers and Generation Y. Gen Y-ers are now the ones starting up businesses and research in the US reveals that as many as 9 out of 10 of them believe that business success should be measured by more than profit.  That’s a change many didn’t see coming, so who’s to say that the businesses that will be built by the following generation won’t be different again with different products, different hierarchies and structures and different ways of working?

Change is inevitable but do you adapt to it or do you lead it?  Are you constrained by a short term focus or energised by a long term vision?  If you have a vision of the future of your organisation and the determination to achieve it, how are you to go about it and overcome the many obstacle and challenges along the way?

There is an overwhelming body of evidence that successfully adapting to change requires the development and full use of the talents and skills of everyone within an organisation.  Sustainable success depends on being able to change attitudes and practices at all levels of a business, completely transforming workplace cultures.

This is no easy task and requires fundamentally fresh thinking to overcome obstacles such as lack of vision at senior management level, middle management intransigence, employee reluctance to accept more responsibility, resistance to real ‘teamworking’ and a lack of will to make innovation and creativity part of the organisational culture.

However, we do know that the mutually-reinforcing impact of workplace partnership, shared learning, high-involvement innovation, enabling organisational structures and systems, self-organised teams and empowering job design can create a tangible effect in workplaces which is hard to quantify. This is embodied within The Fifth Element approach to workplace innovation, creating an enabling culture and levels of workforce engagement which can help an organisation cope with both externally enforced and planned change.

As Tom Francis argues in his article, shared learning between companies is a hugely useful resource in finding ways to change entrenched attitudes and work practices. It highlights tried and tested approaches and avoids reinventing the wheel, while at the same time stimulating new thinking and innovation. Knowledge-sharing forums offer a platform to understand how other businesses do things and how they have resolved dilemmas and challenges in the process of change. For example Fresh Thinking Labs delivers both face-to-face and online access to a Europe-wide pool of experience and knowledge, and providing ideas and practical support for businesses interested in future-proofing their organisations.

Such learning networks engage small, closed groups of companies in exploring a specific issue. They offer a structured approach to identifying good practice and provide participants with a unique portfolio of tools and case study material. 

Meetings may be hosted by an employer with great experiences to share. Other members visit as ‘critical friends’, identifying positive achievements while bringing their own knowledge and experience to bear on current challenges.

Learning networks work because they are practical and dynamic and are built on trust, enabling people to share problems openly and generate new perspectives by viewing problems and opportunities from different bodies of experience.  They also provide a safe environment to test or peer review ideas and concepts before sharing them with colleagues. They can provide opportunities for shared experimentation through action learning where participants each undertake comparable change projects in parallel. And they often lead to long-term collaborative relationships.

Face-to-face networks are powerful because they support trust, openness and long-term relationships but their potential for knowledge sharing and access to wider communities of interest is enhanced massively when linked to an online “network of networks”.

Inter-organisational networking and knowledge exchange will play a vital role in helping businesses build the ability to adapt to major economic, social and cultural change and to create workplaces of the future where innovation and creativity are embedded with high performance and employee well-being.

They may also lead to a more fundamental change in the way we do business, moving away from the a confrontational model based on competition to a collaborative model based on shared goals and what Professor John Bessant describes as ‘collective efficiency’.

Effective knowledge sharing may well assist in coping with whatever change is generated by the aspirational demands by Generation X.  In any event, shared learning clearly demonstrates that confronting change need not be either lonely or haphazard.  It shows that businesses that want to embrace change don’t have to have every creative thought themselves.  They just have to network effectively and recognise a good idea when they see one.

This article by Neil Devons first appeared in the EUWIN bulletin.

For a full list of EUWIN bulletins please visit this page.

Gabriella Eberhardt, HR Leader at GE Mining, shares her impressions after our London event 'Transforming Culture at GE Mining'.

Interested to learn more? Fresh Thinking Labs is the international platform for company networking and workplace innovation, On Line  and In Person:

Please contact us for further information!

DS Smith Lockerbie believes in open, inclusive and devolved decision-making.

As part of the company’s commitment to workplace innovation, morning meetings in the Operations Room were introduced to improve communication and enable joint planning and problem-solving amongst employees. Front line representatives from each work area take part in these meetings and use a series of visual management boards to record their daily discussions. Participants take turns in leading the meeting and are encouraged to keep the tone optimistic and collaborative.

Meetings are coached and scored by members of the management team, using a standard proforma to measure the quality of factors such as effectiveness, participation, inclusivity, and the avoidance of blame and recrimination. The MD usually coaches the Friday morning meeting and encourages reflection on ‘how to make next week better than this week’.

The change has been welcomed by employees, who are steadily embracing the new culture and are extending more participative ways of working into other areas of the business.

<< Back to Scotland Leads the Way >>

DS Smith is a European leading packaging company of customer-specific packaging, based in Lockerbie, Scotland. Operations Manager David Murdoch asked Peter and Rosemary from Workplace Innovation Europe, as part of the Scottish Enterprise Workplace Innovation Engagement Programme, to help involve his staff in innovative ways to improve the business.

A facilitated Mini-FabLab session, with front line staff representing each area across the workforce, was a new experience for DS Smith. The group rose to the challenge and modelled and then re-modelled the factory, deep in discussion and sharing experiences and creating solutions… using boxes and paper! They addressed production issues, suggested improvements for team work, and identified where quality improvements could be made. Some were quick wins and some quite radical changes.

They presented the redesigned model to David who was very positive and receptive to their ideas, and will support the group to continue to meet every month to develop improvements. David also welcomed their idea of the teams of operators pausing production to identify and resolve a problem together at the time it is flagged, rather than at the end of the line, which he agreed will reduce waste and improve quality control.

So, plenty of creative improvements to take forward and they had fun and enjoyed the experience!

Want to know more? Get in touch!

Fresh Thinking Labs brings together companies and other organisations from across Europe to learn from each other about creating high performing, innovative and healthy workplaces.

Our  programme offers opportunities to share practical experiences with people leading change in a diverse, international range of organisations, and to learn from leading European experts about what really works.

The focus is on releasing the creativity and talent of people throughout the organisation, enabling employees to contribute actively  and systematically  to innovation and improvement in products, services and processes. Employee-Driven Innovation is a bottom-up approach which empowers people, to reflect on past experiences and future challenges, to ask difficult questions, to learn from diverse places and to take part in creative dialogue with a wide range of other stakeholders.

Being part of the programme gives you automatic membership of Fresh Thinking Labs, providing you with access to a growing international community of enterprises Fresh Thinking Labs members benefit from:

  • Personal introductions to other members by experienced international facilitators.
  • Online search and matching based on your interests and expertise.
  • Live knowledge-sharing forums and Sofinars on member-identified themes.
  • In Person Labs: small, closed groups exploring a specific issue together.
  • Sharing and developing good practice through facilitated workplace visits.
  • Unique resources including research evidence, case studies and practical tools.
  • Workshops and company-hosted events for all Fresh Thinking Labs members.

Individual rate €350 / £300. Participation in events and the online platform for twelve months.

Corporate rate on application

Join the Fresh Thinking Labs Programme here

Upcoming Events

Arnhem, Netherlands

Flat, agile and world class

Learn from experts how Dutch companies are achieving competitive success through versatile and adaptive working practices. You’ll also see these principles in action in two innovative SMEs.

Cork, Ireland

Leadership for Workplace Innovation

A deep dive into the principles and practice of workplace innovation as a route to high performance and employee engagement.

Stockholm, Sweden

Workplace Innovation & the Digital Economy

International experts and leading Swedish companies (including Astra Zeneca and Scania) sharing latest thinking and practice, including two company visits.

Any questions?

Contact us at

What they say about us

What we’ve seen today is that the Fresh Thinking Labs concept has helped us get a pretty good picture of what we’re actually trying to do. Sometimes we try to tackle stuff without knowing exactly what the problem is. So what I’ve found today is that the questioning from all the different organisations has given some clarity to our thinking. They ask ‘what exactly is your problem? We don’t understand it so what makes you think you understand it.’

This makes us really think about what we are doing, what we are trying to achieve and what our problem is.

Tom Francis, Saint Gobain

Today has been absolutely brilliant. Fresh Thinking Labs is about interaction and the whole concept of bringing businesses together to share their experiences in this way is ground-breaking and invaluable.

Herman Kok, Lindum Group

I think the Fresh Thinking Labs concept is incredibly important because if you only rely on your own company and the people in your own organisation, then you’re very limited as to how you are going to develop innovation and engagement.

Coming together with other companies helps you recognise that we have similar problems and challenges. In some case other companies have actually tackled a problem you’ve got, and come up with a solution that may have taken you months or even years to resolve. Getting together and sharing ideas has real value, real benefits.

Malcolm Bond, Rittal CSM

The power of events of this nature is that you are exposed to things you wouldn’t normally be exposed to. It reminds you that if you only act on what you already know, you’ll never change. The concept of Fresh Thinking Labs exposes you to new ways of applying different thinking to the organisation and that’s the real power of it. I have learned a lot today – much more than I anticipated when I first arrived.

Jeremy Ling, Bristan Group

Fresh Thinking Labs provides an amazing opportunity for individuals to get together, share what they’re doing and have the chance to think outside of work. Taking that step back, reflecting and being able to bounce ideas off others is invaluable. There’s lots of things I’ve already taken away after just one session.

It’s easy to think that you’re the only one going through these challenges when actually a lot of us have similar things going on, similar ideas and we all want to progress. The opportunity to compare different perspectives and bounce ideas around is invaluable.

Mary Lester, Nottingham City Council

It’s good to see that other businesses have exactly the same challenges and to be able to collectively solve the problems that we’re facing. There’s a wealth of knowledge around that we can access and help each other out.

Tom Francis, Business Manager, Saint-Gobain

It’s really nice to have a group of organisations coming together to share things that have happened in our workplaces. Even if they’re different, there are commonalities that we can learn from.

Natalie Wilkie, Innovation Team, The Met Office

We’ve built a good community of people who share what they’ve got and know that they’re not alone in facing the challenges they have in their own companies.

Mark Wightman, Head of Development, Red Gate Software

While taking part in the lastest and most challenging Fresh Thinking Lab with GE Mining, I was asked what I got out of participating in the event, which was a great question and one that caused me to reflect on the whole event. For me it is all about Personal Development. By applying my Experience, Knowledge and Beliefs to a different organisation I must analyse and examine the issues from the point of first principle. In doing so we inevitably reflect on the application and effectiveness of those aspects within our own organisation. Testing what we believe we know to be true refines our understanding leading to continual improvement; every day is a learning day.

Warren Glover Head of Employee Wellbeing and Development, Lindum Group Ltd

We wanted a WOW factor and you’ve certainly delivered that!

Tony Williams, Executive Director of People, Orbit Group

From a personal point of view I found Peter and Rosemary very easy to work with and their knowledge of the workplace is exceptional. They were always there to help, guide and point us in the right direction.

Irene Emery, Customer Services Director, Pendragon Contracts

Our collaboration with Professor Totterdill and his colleagues proved to be inspired. Professor Totterdill filled the role of Masterclass facilitator with what seemed like effortless ease, thanks to a thorough grasp of the subject matter, a warm and engaging style of interacting with the audience, and a thoroughly professional approach to planning and preparation.

Lucy Fallon-Byrne, Director, National Centre for Partnership and Performance, Ireland

I highly recommend Peter and his team to anyone wanting to inspire and educate people about how to manage change well in organisations.

Sharon Darwent, Head of Employee Engagement, BT

Join us for 24 hours of knowledge sharing and out-of-the-box thinking on: “How do you create workplace cultures that help attract and retain the best talent?”

When: Wednesday 12th July (12.30-17.45) & Thursday 13th July (8.30 - 13.00)

Where: GE UK HQ, The Ark , London, UK

Registration: here.

Join Fresh Thinking Labs in London for an afternoon and morning of learning and knowledge-sharing about changing culture at GE Mining.

GE Mining is on a journey to build purposeful, high performing teams dedicated to winning together. That involves trust, moving away from performance rankings towards mutual accountability and a commitment to delivering for each other. For example, GE’s Performance Development tool leverages horizontal feedback, helping people to understand their impact on others.

GE Mining’s aspiration is for a culture that will help its adaptation to a changing workforce while accelerating processes of change and technology adoption throughout the company. ‘Delivering for each other’ also involves shared intelligence, developing a ‘living knowledge base’ that survives employee turnover.

Yet what does this mean in practice? And how far has GE come on its journey?

This event will provide participants with the unique opportunity to

  • learn about GE's leading-edge thinking and innovative practices;
  • build cumulative insights, by discussing the issues with a cross-section of staff at GE's London HQ and, via video link, with GE mining teams across the world;
  • be a 'critical friend' to GE Mining's senior team during constructive feedback sessions;
  • share knowledge and experience with a diverse group of Fresh Thinking Labs members from other companies - including over a vibrant networking dinner!

Who can participate?

This event is open to companies and organisations of all sizes and sectors. We invite you to get in touch if you are interested in workplace innovation and in sharing your experiences and insights with GE, and other external participants, as 'critical friends'. Please note that we are unable to offer places to consultants.

    How can I register?

    Participation in this event is available on a one-off cost basis, or as part of Fresh Thinking Labs annual membership, which offers access to a further programme of Open Events of this kind across Europe.

    Please book your place here or contact Naomi Imms, Fresh Thinking Labs Coordinator by email at or by telephone on 0115 933 832 to discuss flexible rates for your organisation and to reserve your place.

    Proekspert’s Journey to Success: winners of the European Excellence Awards HR 2017 in the category Work 4.0 - work of the future!

    Time and Date: 11.00-17.30 on Tuesday 25th, and 9.00 – 15.00 on Wednesday 26th September 2017
    Place: Proekspert, Sõpruse puiestee 157, 13417 Tallinn, Estonia
    Booking info: here.

    Join Fresh Thinking Labs in Tallinn for an afternoon and morning of learning and knowledge-sharing about organisational design at Proekspert.

    Proekspert is a unique organisation, which has made the transformation from being a ‘typical software company’ to a service, design and product development company, at the same time as becoming ‘bossless’ – in other words, manager-free!

    Over Tuesday 25th and Wednesday 26th September 2017, the team at Proekspert will share the story of their organisational transformation during interactive learning and facilitated reflective sessions. As a participant, you will have the opportunity to:

    • learn about Proekspert’s uniquely employee-centric organisation and culture, and how it was shaped;
    • help staff at Proekspert to identify and reflect on the opportunities and challenges that their organisational transformation has presented;
    • share your own organisation’s experiences, achievements and challenges in this area with other participants;
    • identify new techniques to encourage employee-driven innovation back in your own organisation.

    The Host Company

    Proekspert, in its own words, ‘creates software for companies that shape the modern world’. The company prides itself on mixing insight-led technology with cutting-edge design and usability to deliver solutions across industries. Their apps are used for a diverse range of functions and clients – ranging from mobile-controlled adjustable luxury beds to real-time stock market interactions, remote payment for parking spaces to banking updates and air conditioning controls.

    The company’s innovative approach to delivering client-centred technological solutions is mirrored in its approach to organisational design and employee experience. At the end of 2013 Proekspert decided to ‘go flat’ by returning managerial power to the grass-roots level; with communication and team effort taking over from middle management. It has also cultivated a unique, holistic HR philsophy, which you can find out more about in this article, written by Tiina Saar-Velmaa, Workplace Happiness Advocate at Proekspert.

    Proekspert’s success in pioneering a relatively radical ‘bossless’, employee-centric organisational model has attracted a string of awards over the past three years including Excellent Employer award, the Best Design Implementer, plus Estonia’s Dream Employer of the Year award. The company has also just been shortlisted for "National Public Champion for Estonia" in European Business Awards in the 'The Award for Innovation' category.

    Find out more about what makes Proekspert special in the video below.

    Interested in booking? Please let us know:

    Workplace Innovation Europe CLG, Fresh Thinking Labs and Mindful Employer are delighted to launch the Good Work and Mental Well-Being Lab in association with with Macmillan Cancer Support, Jacobs, TNO, the Institute for Employment Studies and other leading organisations keen to share experiences of creating positive mental health in the workplace.

    The Good Work and Mental Well-Being Lab is a closed network of organisations committed to exploring leading edge practice and identifying practical, evidence-based solutions.

    The Lab

    Enables the sharing of good practice and ideas between workplaces.

    Builds active relationships with your peers in other organisations.

    Creates a forum for collaborative innovation and problem solving.

    Bridges the gap between research and practice.

    Draws on experience from our network of leading companies from across Europe.

    Develops practical tools and resources for workplace change.

    Provides access to expert guidance.

    Mental health problems are a huge issue affecting people and business. Statistics tell us that 1 in 5 people will be affected by a mental health problem at some time in their life with the result that 17 million working days are lost each year, at a cost of around £26bn to UK employers alone.

    These figures only paint part of the picture, and recent research has also shown that employees are likely to give different reasons for taking sick leave because of poor mental health.

    While there is undoubtedly a myriad of factors contributing to individual mental health, it is clear that the workplace has huge potential either to promote or to undermine mental wellbeing.

    Good work supports mental well-being for everyone. Employers increasingly recognise the need to identify and support people with mental health problems but the wider task is to identify and address those workplace practices which build or undermine mental well-being. So, what can employers do to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem?

    The Lab is based on a small, closed network of companies, public sector and not-for-profit employers committed to exploring and developing future-focused workplaces that generate positive mental health and well-being for all through productive and engaging work.

    Get in touch for more information

    The Programme

    Here is our unique programme of opportunities to learn, share and be part of fresh thinking:

    2017 - 2018

    Opening Symposium

    5th-6th December 2017

    An evening introduction and orientation to the programme on the 4th, followed by a highly interactive event on the 5th combining insights and knowledge from leading experts with opportunities for participants to learn about each other and to share practical experience.
    Expert contributors include:
    Stavroula Leka, Professor of Work, Health & Policy and Director of the Centre for Organisational Health & Development at the University of Nottingham. She is a Chartered Psychologist and her main interests include psychosocial risk management andthe promotion of mental health in the workplace. Stavroula is an expert advisor to the European Commission, the WHO, the ILO, the European Agency for Safety& Health at Work and the European Parliament.
    Steven Dhondt (Prof., PhD) has a doctoral degree in social sciences and is currently senior researcher at TNO and visiting professor at the University of Leuven (Belgium). His research lies in the field of work, technology and health, covering various topics such as quality of work, working conditions, technology and work, social innovation, health and well-being. One of his instruments is the WEBA assessment tool which helps to evaluate the quality of jobs and gives practical directions to improve
    Stephen Bevan, Head of HR Research Development at the Institute of Employment Studies is an advisor to the government, winner of a special award from GAMIAN-Europe forhis contribution to mental health, former Director at the Work Foundation and founding president of the Fit for Work Europe Coalition.
    Macmillan Cancer Support


    27th-28th March 2018
    Macmillan is one of the largest British charities and provides specialist health care, information and financial support to people affected by cancer. Macmillan’s wellbeing programme looks to inspire and support health and wellbeing amongst its workforce to help ensure it achieves its goals: “We need to ensure that Macmillan’s employees are provided with an environment and opportunities that encourage and enable them to lead healthy lives and make choices that support their wellbeing. Macmillan has developed a range of approaches to address wellbeing in the workplace, drawing on research into wellbeing and based on feedback obtained from the Wellbeing Audit. This has led to the development of a range of initiatives aimed at helping staff improve their wellbeing.”
    University of Exeter


    13th August 2018
    Join other organisations keen to share experiences of creating positive mental health in the workplace.
    Review Macmillan Cancer Support’s approach to mental health in the workplace.
    Discover the latest research on management interventions to support mental health – and how it is influencing practice in Cornwall Council.
    Explore the University of Exeter’s approach to mental health in the workplace.

    Institute for Employment Studies, Brighton

    27th November
    Fresh Thinking in Innovation – hosted by the Institute for Employment Studies in Brighton, and bringing together experts and experiences from several employers across the UK and other European countries. What are the lessons and how can we translate them into positive mental health in our workplaces?

    Get in touch for more information

    How it works

    The Opening Symposium will bring participants together with leading experts to learn from the evidence and to build a shared framework for positive mental health in the workplace. It will enable Lab members to share their own experiences and to identify common challenges and opportunities that will help share the remainder of the programme.

    Two full-day company-hosted visits (with dinner on the previous evening), hosted by Macmillan and Jacobs, provide participants with opportunities to learn from the host company’s good practices, meet a cross-section of employees and work together as ‘critical friends’ to address current challenges and dilemmas. Expert contributions and facilitation further enhance each visit. Delegates receive a Case Report after visits.

    Continuing dialogue takes place between meetings on the Fresh Thinking Labs platform. A closed online Lab will enable participants to reflect on each event, share their own good practices, discuss challenges and dilemmas, and access an evolving resource bank and guide to good practice. Fresh Thinking Labs is the international platform dedicated to sharing good practice within the workplace. Participants also benefit from bespoke introductions to other Fresh Thinking Labs member companies with similar interests, online forums, a programme of Open Events  on a wide range of key workplace topics, and access to a growing body of case studies, tools and articles for practitioners. For more information see

    The second Symposium will ask ‘what are the lessons?’ What have we learned from the Lab to date, and how can we translate our findings into practical ways of building better jobs and workplaces that actively contribute to mental well-being? It will include contributions from other leading edge-practitioners from companies in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, as well as from leading experts.

    Following the programme, we will generate a practical guide and resource pack for positive mental health at work for Lab participants.

    The Labs will be facilitated by:

    Dr Peter Totterdill, is a Founding Director of Workplace Innovation Europe CLG and a Visiting Professor at two universities. A passionate advocate of organisational practices that combine high performance and high quality of working life, Peter’s career has focused on building bridges between academic knowledge and practice. He has led successful innovation and change initiatives in a wide range of private and public sector organisations.

    Rosemary Exton, is a Founding Director of Workplace Innovation Europe CLG. Building on many years’ experience as a clinician, manager and trade unionist in the NHS, Rosemary has provided programme management, leadership and development training and support to several organisations. Rosemary gained an MA in Management and Leadership from the University of Leeds in 2008. She has published articles on workplace innovation and entrepreneurial behaviour and is a regular speaker at international conferences.

    Richard Frost, Lead at Mindful Employer, an NHS initiative providing businesses and organisations across the UK with easier access to information and support for staff who experience stress, anxiety, depression or other mental health conditions.

    Get in touch for more information

    About the Good Work and Mental Well-Being Lab

    The Lab offers the chance to join a unique journey of knowledge sharing, discovery and fresh thinking. Research evidence will be tested against the reality of busy workplaces with competing priorities, while good practices in host organisations will be examined by ‘critical friends’ to explore their robustness and generalisability.

    Based on the above analysis, the Lab’s agenda begins with the following themes, forming the framework for a practical guide to positive mental health at work prepared exclusively for Lab participants. These themes may change in response to ideas, needs and input from organisations participating in the Lab.

    1. Raising Awareness

      How can we diagnose the current workplace climate and assess the factors that contribute to, or undermine, positive workplace health? How to build the business case and win support for change? And which policies should be put in place?

    2. Building a Momentum for Change

      Once the right policies are in place, how do we raise awareness of mental health and improve the standard of practice throughout the organisation?

    3. Line Managers: Barrier Reef or Mental Health Ambassadors?

      Training managers in mental health awareness and fostering appropriate behaviours is often necessary but what does good practice look like – and is it sufficient? How can management roles, processes and behaviours be rethought to support positive mental health and high performance simultaneously?

    4. Rethinking Job Design and Work Organisation

      We know that empowered workers are healthier and perform better – but what does this mean for the redesign of individual jobs, teams and organisational structures?

    5. Leading People-Centred Change

      What is the role of leaders in promoting positive mental health at work? How are they persuaded to become visible champions of change? And how does the definition of leadership itself change?

    Building Positive Mental Health through Good Work

    Contact us for further details. Download the Flyer

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