The Challenge

Although Cumbria had great wellbeing offerings available to staff, they wanted to do more than deal with the symptoms of workplace stress; they wanted to tackle the causes of stress at their root.

The Approach

Psychologists at the Centre for Human Factors had developed a cutting edge and bespoke approach to exploring the root causes of workplace stressors. After discussion, it was agreed that this was the appropriate next stage for Cumbria County Council to explore in supporting their workforce and looking at root causes of workplace stress, in particular for front line roles.

The Outcome

The insights and recommendations arising from this work are enabling positive steps towards improved working practices, future job design and organisational development support for managers in the council.



The Challenge

Cumbria County Council wished to take a person-centred absence approach and to look at the root causes for workplace stressors resulting in absence and wellbeing issues for the workforce.

The Council had in place a comprehensive wellbeing support offer however, despite that support it was important look to beyond treating the symptoms and delve further in the root causes of the workplace stress.   Also recognising that this has a knock-on effect to employee wellbeing, retention, recruitment and being seen as a good employer with the wellbeing of the workforce seen as a key priority.

The Approach

Psychologists at the Centre for Human Factors have developed a cutting edge and bespoke approach to exploring the root causes of workplace stressors in organisations. The approach involves high-quality qualitative work underpinned by academic rigour, following bespoke scale development based on the framework of the Health and Safety Executive’s Management Standards. This is then used to devise an organisation-wide survey, followed by specialised statistical analysis and reporting. The aim of the work is to deliver highly nuanced data, underpinned by scientific theory in order to develop targeted and evidence-based interventions that help those most in need.

Sonyia Curran – Service Manager, Organisational Development at Cumbria County Council met the Centre for Human Factors team during an Organisational Development conference presentation. Having learned about the team’s approach to root cause analysis, Sonyia immediately made the connection between the approach, the position in Cumbria, and what they wanted to achieve.

Sonyia explained that the bespoke element of the work has been crucial, particularly with the focus on frontline roles for that part of the work.

“This was especially important during and post-pandemic because the impact on these roles has been the greatest; they continued to work directly during all of the pandemic, and this has had an effect on their wellbeing.

When asked what made the approach stand out over others they had researched, Sonyia said:

“The integrity and credibility of the psychologists and the links with the Health and Safety Executive, was a very important aspect.   The methodology and approach had a sound evidence base”  

Sonyia explained that it was of particular benefit to be able to discuss the endorsement outcomes and impact of the work with other councils who had engaged with this programme.

“It is important to have the senior leadership team on board at an early stage and to ensure that at the onset there are senior leadership sponsors. An important component of the work was to have engagement across frontline services, Health and Safety and to fully brief and include trade union representatives within the organisation. With this in mind a steering group was established at the beginning. It was crucial to enable genuine engagement with the workforce across key service areas.”  

The outcome

Despite the challenges in the beginning, Sonyia explained that there is has been a great deal of anticipation about the outputs of the work, and an appreciation of its benefits.

“It has helped us to promote a person-centred approach to health and wellbeing aligned to and complimenting other procedures and to take a more holistic view to workforce wellbeing. Specifically, it gave some high level ‘all workforce’ priorities and specific priorities for frontline roles. These evidence-based insights have been fed into organisational development support plans, e.g. how to work through significant change, taking account of its specific impacts on the workforce.’’

Of the experience of working with the team at the Centre for Human Factors, Sonyia said:

“We have had an excellent working relationship and one of the best partnerships I have been involved in with tangible outcomes that will benefit the organisation in many ways.

“We are highly enthusiastic about collaborating with universities – they see the benefit of employer partnerships. The psychologists went above and beyond in providing support and recommendations. I would absolutely recommend them – they are very professional and offer comprehensive support. A true partnership.

The team at the Centre for Human Factors continues to work with Cumbria to deliver specialist interventions arising out of the risk assessment work, including clinical psychology support in the Social Work field and the next steps following the recommendations from the Workplace Stressors Root Cause Analysis findings.