According to a recent report, 2 million people in Britain suffered from an illness in 2013/14 that they believed had been caused or made worse by their current or past work. A recent research project between the University of Birmingham and Health Exchange looked at the evidence for positive impacts of well-being programmes on organisations and their employees, particularly in the retail and construction sectors.

Health Exchange, a prominent health and wellbeing service provider in Birmingham, approached the University to embark on a workplace wellbeing research project in order to better understand the situation in the construction and retail sectors. Working with the Business Engagement team, they collaborated with Professor Fiona Carmichael (Birmingham Business School), Sarah-Jane Fenton, Monica Pinilla-Roncancio (both School of Social Policy), Marea Sing (Birmingham Business School) and Dr Steven Sadhra (Institute of Clinical Sciences). Funding was provided by the Accelerating Business-Knowledge Base Innovation Activity (ABIA) fund from the European Union and Medilink.

Professor Carmichael and colleagues have now published their paper entitled, Workplace health and wellbeing in construction and retail: Sector specific issues and barriers to resolving them in the academic journal Workplace Health and Wellbeing. In a project that incorporated extensive workplace health and wellbeing literature searches, data extraction, interviews and meetings with experts within the target sectors, the paper highlights the need for further study in this area.

The paper discusses the links between mental health, illness and dietary and physical activity behaviours. It also draws attention to recent studies that show the link between depression and musculoskeletal disorders. Health and safety concerns in construction were pervasive, with causes strongly tied to industry practice and structures such as short-term and sub-contracting as well as long hours and a masculine culture. In the retail establishments concerns tended to be more holistic, focusing on wellbeing and encompassing work satisfaction. Industry leaders in construction are proactive in trying to address these issues, particularly in regard to safety. The multi-dimensionality of the concept of workplace wellbeing implies the need for a holistic approach to interventions.

The findings of this in-depth study with a practitioner partner will help to increase knowledge of the underlying causes of workplace health and wellbeing issues in construction and retail and the barriers to addressing them.

To find out more information about this project or anything else related to Business Engagement, please contact Andy Newnham, Business Engagement Partner for Social Sciences, at