Invites for research on management practices and employee engagement, and their relationships with productivity.

As part of ESRC’s commitment to a longer-term strategic, coordinated portfolio of productivity investments, we are inviting proposals from researchers at eligible UK research organisations to carry out research on management practices and employee engagement, and their relationships with productivity.


New insights from the Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) Management and Expectations Survey (PDF, ESCOE website) across multiple business sectors demonstrate that moving the quality of a firm’s management practice from the bottom decile to ‘average’ can deliver a 19% increase in productivity. This supports 2017 results from Sadun, Bloom and Van Reenen showing that better management practices are associated with higher profits, faster annual growth and higher productivity.

Another example is the positive impacts on productivity associated with investment in workplace mental health and wellbeing, with returns to business of up to £9 per £1 invested (see Mental health and employers (PDF, Deloitte website)). While these relationships have been identified, there is a dearth of knowledge about why they exist and how individual managers, employees, firms, regions and national policy can support, diffuse and capitalise on the factors that drive effective management and employee engagement practices. This understanding will not only inform interventions that could improve productivity in the private sector, but will also yield potential improvements in public sector productivity.


Research projects to the call should sit across the following areas:

  • Variation in management practices, employee engagement, drivers of that variation and relationship with productivity outcomes
  • Exploring manager and employee engagement, including motivations, trust and absorptive capacity.
  • Adopting, diffusing, scaling and sustaining beneficial innovations and changes in management practices.
  • Opportunities for improvements in productivity, mental health, physical health and wellbeing through innovations in management practices.

Up to £4.5 million total (80% FEC) research council contribution is available for this call (subject to final HMT approval). Proposals can bid for up to £900,000 for up to three years. It is anticipated that up to five proposals will be funded under the call.

How to apply

Applications must be submitted via Je-S before 16:00 on 18 September 2018.

Successful awards will be announced in December 2018 and should expect to begin on 14 February 2019.

Key dates

  • Opening date for proposals – 6 August 2018
  • Closing date for proposals – 18 September 2018
  • PI response invited – 23 October 2018
  • PI response due – 29 October 2018
  • Panel – 3 December 2018
  • Grants start – 14 February 2019

Call documents

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