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EAWOP Small Group Meeting Voice and Wellbeing in the Caring Professions – Linking Research and Application


EAWOP Small Group Meeting
Voice and Wellbeing in the Caring Professions – Linking Research and Application

Two day virtual meeting 14-15th September 2021 AND one day in-person meeting 10th January 2022, Glasgow, UK

Organizers: Sarah Brooks (Sheffield University Management School), Michael Knoll (Leipzig University), Carolyn Axtell (Sheffield University Management School), Anthony Montgomery (University of Macedonia), and Lotta Dellve (University of Gothenburg)


Small Group Meeting Theme

We invite contributions from early career researchers, established scholars, practitioners and policy makers in the form of project ideas to a hybrid two-part Small Group Meeting. The Small Group Meeting will act as a platform to advance knowledge on the ways to harness voice in the caring professions with the aim of increasing patient, employee and client wellbeing.

Employees in the caring professions are not only at the centre of response to the Covid-19 pandemic, but they are also critical for the viability of our societies. The pandemic has put a lot of pressure on those involved in these sectors, but at the same time, offers a window of opportunity to address long-standing issues (Uhl-Bien & Arena, 2017). These issues include how the care sectors deal with ongoing societal challenges such as demographic changes, which have increased the need for the sector but reduced the pool of potential workers, and economization and digitalization which have changed professional identities, statuses, and qualifications. Employees in the caring sectors are struggling with these challenges which are visible through increased levels of depression, burnout, anxiety, stress, and insomnia amongst elder care and healthcare workers (OECD, 2020; Shreffler et al 2020). However, members of the caring professions often do not disclose their suffering or that of their colleagues (Henriksen & Dayton, 2006; Ockenden Report, 2020). Moreover, alongside employee silence (Knoll et al., 2016; Pinder & Harlos, 2001), more serious kinds of withdrawal are observed, including high rates of turnover, long term sick-leave, and even suicides among physicians and nurses (Kalmoe et al., 2019; Mustard, 2009). Silence seems to be a tolerated, accepted, and even enforced in the caring professions resulting in the concealment of difficulties and malpractices such as medical errors, bullying among staff, inefficacy, and mistreatment of elders in caring institutions (Francis, 2013; Kennedy Review, 2010; Maxfield et al., 2005; Oliver, 2021).

The role of employee voice and silence for improving wellbeing in care settings

Voice (i.e., the expression of ideas, questions, and concerns with the eventual aim of challenging the status quo; Hirschman, 1970; van Dyne et al., 1995) is an effective way to deal with issues that affect the wellbeing of frontline workers, patients, relatives and clients. However, knowledge on how to harness voice is scattered across disciplines, and the application of this knowledge seems to face unique challenges in the caring professions (Jones et al., 2021). Thus, in this Small Group Meeting, we invite contributions which will allow us to explore at least four areas regarding relationships between voice and wellbeing in the context of care.

(1) Voice and wellbeing of professionals in the caring context. While proactive behaviour and personal initiative is positively related to wellbeing (Urbach et al., 2020), it is less clear whether employees who have to manage an already exhausting workload and act in a culture that facilitates silence will engage in voice, and whether doing so will lead to positive outcomes or further depletion of resources (Ng & Feldman, 2014). Drawing on research that showed that burnout can increase silence (Knoll et al., 2019), downward spirals of silence and impaired health may loom.
(2) The effects of professionals’ voice/silence on the wellbeing of their patients/clients. In the caring professions, withholding opinions, questions, and concerns not only leads to higher tensions and disturbed recovery for the employee who withholds such information, but potentially harms others as well (Francis, 2013; Schwappach & Gehring, 2014). Thus, we are interested in exploring whether voice increases clients’ and patients’ safety and quality of care which includes issues beyond health improvement (e.g., dignity and self-determination; Bolger et al., 2015).
(3) The effects of voice and silence of patients/clients on their own and caring professionals’ wellbeing. We think that patients and clients are a source for improvement and have valuable things to contribute. Furthermore, many caring organizations are increasingly required to view patients as customers. They therefore have the potential to become a powerful source for challenging negative conditions such as insufficient caring time or shortages in personnel where caring staff might be reluctant to speak up or forced to remain silent (Richards, 2019).
(4) Voice and silence of external agents. We are keen to explore how voices from external agents could open new opportunities for improvement in wellbeing where the voices of primary carers’ have limited power. External agents who might notice that something is wrong and could potentially improve the situation include janitors in hospitals, policy makers, relatives of patients, monitoring bodies, consultants as well as the media).
These four focus areas function as a starting point only. Submissions to this Small Group Meeting could cover, but are not restricted to these areas. The following issues aim at inspiring further thinking which could also be addressed in the Small Group Meeting. 

Additional suggestions

Voice and what else? Besides directly addressing an issue, there might be other ways to initiate change (e.g., more or less explicitly working around regulations or displays of non-verbal agency).
When does voice do more harm than good/ when is silence justified in the caring context? Silence can be necessary or beneficial in the context of care (McClean et al., 2013; Seibert et al., 2001).
Contributions could specify the role of voice and silence within the caring sectors and the circumstances under which either can be helpful or less helpful.
Are there international differences in antecedents and effects of voice? The caring professions are major employers in many countries. The Small Group Meeting provides an opportunity to compare knowledge and practices from various countries including influences such as policy, society and organisational cultures.
Are there differences with respect to care settings? While hospitals are well-studied, elder care institutions received less attention and even less is known about ambulant and home-based care.
Are there drivers for voice or silence that are specific to the caring context? Compassion is an important motivation in the caring profession and thus might be a context-specific resource to overcome feelings of fear and futility which often hamper voice. However, this resource might be threatened as compassion might be challenged due to pressures towards economization.
Voice in relation to gender and minority status. The caring professions are traditionally characterized by an overly female staff. In addition, particularly in the richer countries, many migrants are employed in caring professions. While research on the relationship between gender and voice is inconsistent, it seems to be the case that minority status makes voice less likely.
What is the potential for future development in relation to voice in the caring professions? Changes to the caring professions during the last decade and particularly during the current pandemic have strained relationships between the key stakeholders in healthcare to a breaking point. A common response to the enduring and timely challenges in the caring professions is to put the responsibility on caring professionals to take better care of themselves, become more resilient, and cope with stressors on their own (Montgomery et al., 2019). To complement this attempt, we want to inspire insights on the potential to apply interventions at the macro- (e.g., policy-making), organizational (e.g. culture), and team-levels (e.g. peers, leaders).
What can we learn from beyond the caring context? Considering that silence is also an issue in other contexts such as law enforcement and education, attempts to harness voice in the caring professions might learn from models, theories, and interventions elsewhere.

Nature and Location of the Small Group Meeting

The Small Group Meeting will take a hybrid approach to cater for current Covid restrictions and will comply with government regulations at the time. Firstly, there will be a two day virtual meeting on 14th and 15th September 2021 which will be followed by a one day in-person meeting on 10th January 2022 in Glasgow, UK to coincide with the EAWOP Congress. Rather than a traditional presentation-type event, this Small Group Meeting will facilitate the creation of a small number of projects designed to further explore the nascent area of voice and wellbeing in the caring professions. A project can be defined as a discrete piece of empirical work designed to explore a topic of interest. Alongside time for group work, panel events and feedback and mentoring from scholars, practitionersand policy makers will provide participants with support and guidance on winning grant funding and developing project ideas into studies and publications. The Small Group Meeting has been designed to attract senior, mid and early career researchers as well as those nearing completion of their PhD in corresponding topics. We encourage projects to be submitted from any level of career (including PhD students). Those projects drawing on recent literature and addressing recognised gaps (conceptual, methodological and/or contemporary developments) in the field will be progressed through to the online two-day event. There will be no maximum number of participants for the two-day online event. But for the one-day event in Glasgow, a maximum number of 25 participants can be accommodated.

Cost. The two-day online event will be provided free of charge for both EAWOP and non-EAWOP members. The one-day event in Glasgow will be provided free for EAWOP members only and for non-EAWOP members, there will be a charge of 100 € full-price and 50 € reduced price for students and those from low income countries. All participants will need to cover their own travel and accommodation costs plus evening dinner.

Submission of Abstracts. Project abstracts (up to 500 words) should be submitted by 8th June 2021. Participants will be notified about the acceptance of their project by July 9th 2021. Project abstracts should follow this structure: a) Purpose, b) Design/Methodology, c) Research/Practical Implications, d) Other Applications and e) Originality/Value. We would be grateful if you could notify us of your intention to submit at the soonest convenience. For all queries, to discuss project ideas and to submit your project abstract, please contact

Progression of Projects and Outputs. Over the course of the Small Group Meeting main events and the time in-between, we aim to develop a number of research projects which advance existing knowledge on voice and silence in this particular context. To produce impact beyond the scientific community, we will discuss studies on potential interventions to harness the power of voice for wellbeing in the caring professions.

Special Issue. To make the findings and insights of the Small Group Meeting accessible to a broader group of researchers, practitioners and policy makers, the organisers plan to publish a special issue on the topic of the Small Group Meeting following the event.

Dissemination. Other publication and dissemination activities will be discussed at the events. We aim for a position paper in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology and connect to practitioners in EAWOP in Practice and EAWOP Impact Incubator.