For over 20 years, Professor Paula Brough’s research has focussed on evaluating and enhancing the psychological health of workers. She is the leader of the Behavioural Basis of Health (research centre’s) Social and Organisational Psychology Research Unit, and WOW’s newest academic member. We spent five minutes with (a very busy) Paula to learn a little more about her research…
In what area/s do your current research interests lie?
My research has focused on two primary aspects of psychological health: (1) reducing experiences of occupational stress within the high-risk industries, and (2) enhancing employee health and organisational performance. I have conducted collaborative research in this field specifically with police agencies since 1993 (my Honours, Masters and PhD theses all investigated police occupational stress), and since 2000, this research has been co-funded by various police services. I’ve conducted research with numerous UK Police Services and with both New Zealand and Queensland Police Services. This research has also been applied to other high-risk industries such as Ambulance, Fire, Corrections, Education and Customs services, as well as to private organisations.
Are there ongoing or emerging trends in your field/s of research?
The swing to assess the impacts of positive, as well as negative, workplace experiences has recently gained welcome momentum. Thus a focus on the provision of workplace support, balance and satisfaction in the assessments of employee wellbeing, work engagement and development has provided improved estimates of employee health, as compared to a focus on stress, conflict, strain and burnout, for example. We also recently reviewed the impact of technology on employee health and performance levels (‘techno-stress’), and technology continues to be both a blessing and a curse for many workers. How new technology will change the working environment over the next decade or so is certainly an issue worthy of increased attention.
Have there been major developments in the field/s or key findings that have directed the trajectory of your research?
The recognition and refinement of explanations of how psychosocial work characteristics impact on employee health and performance has been important (e.g. Job Demands-Resources Model; Psychosocial Safety Climate assessments). The recent emphasis placed upon leaders – how they can have such a strong impact upon all sorts of organisational practices and employee performance, regardless of formal policies, is also topical. This has of course been known for a while, but recent empirical studies have re-emphasised this impact via multi-level modelling analyses in particular. The research we’re undertaking assessing the impact of ‘toxic leaders’ and training supervisors ‘in supportive people management skills’ is exciting and is producing some nice empirical evidence of this impact of leadership.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m in the final stages of completing a co-authored book entitled, Improving criminal justice workplaces: Translating theory and research into evidenced-based practice (Routledge). I’m halfway through an Australian Research Council Linkage grant undertaking a controlled trial of an innovative stress management intervention which focusses on leadership development in the Queensland Police Service. I have some small (seed funding) projects running in 2015 with Queensland Fire & Rescue Service (assessing gender culture), and with Queensland Teachers Unions (assessing engagement over the teaching life span). Then there’s the usual backlog of papers from past projects to write up, or awaiting revision and journal resubmission!
Finally, are there challenges in your field/s in trying to bridge the gap between research, practice and policy?
I’m a passionate advocate of high quality applied research – it has to be useful, it has to work, and we need to be able to empirically prove that it does. Most of my research is distilled into key recommendations for organisations with the intention of informing their policies. The uptake of recommendations into actual organisational policy change is of course varied, but does occur.