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Comment: Are age and unhappiness related? By Peter Warr

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

Hard Evidence: are age and unhappiness related?

Originally published on The Conversation

If it’s no fun getting old, then why do surveys of national well-being show that older people are happier than younger people?

Recent research into happiness, questioning people about their lives as a whole, their jobs, family, social activities and other aspects, has started to reveal some intriguing patterns. New data released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that older people tend to be happier rather than more miserable than younger people. But looking at ONS data in more depth reveals an even more interesting pattern

Between the ages of around 20 and the decade between ages 40 to 50, people score progressively lower in measures of happiness on average. But after the middle years of their life, that trend is reversed so that average happiness becomes steadily greater, until it levels off when people are about 70.

This age pattern in the UK parallels that found in other high-income countries, although in other regions the curve is not present in the same way. In high-income countries it is visible in broad assessments of life satisfaction and (with increases in the middle years) through reports about recent worry or stress. It also exists within particular domains of life: job satisfaction and job strain are respectively lowest and highest in the middle years of our lives. And the U-shape is broadly similar for men and women, although the diagram below illustrates that women tend to worry more than men.

Proportion of respondents who reported that they experienced a lot of worry yesterday, based on data in Gallup-Healthways Wellbeing Index Poll
Steptoe, Deaton and Stone, The Lancet

Surveys of this kind generate averages from different people, and we cannot assume that all people will travel along the average route. Longitudinal research into happiness over a life-span has not yet been possible, and research has not directly indicated that one variable – age – is causally determining the other – happiness.

It does seem likely that age contributes in some way to positive or negative feelings, but the number of years since birth cannot directly cause anything. So we need to look for other, possibly causative, factors which may change with age.

Happiness and the environment

Happiness is of course hugely influenced by external factors, and many investigations have identified several which may contribute to the relationship between happiness and age.

As adults move towards middle age they often take on additional job and family responsibilities and can be increasingly troubled by job insecurity and future career uncertainty, as well as by childcare and commitments to elderly relatives. Conflicts between roles can become unusually great in these years, and income can increasingly fail to meet people’s needs.

Studies have found that people need to have some influence on what happens to them and what they do to avoid distress. They are unhappy being merely a pawn manipulated by other people and events, and they want to be able to take steps to reduce strain and enhance their enjoyment of life.

But the opportunity to influence your surroundings can be substantially impaired in your middle years because of conflicting demands made by other people and the roles you have taken on. You can feel particularly hemmed in by your situation.

This, alongside other aspects of a person’s environment, can depress happiness in middle age. But why does it improve, on average, after then? In part, it is because people move on to different stages of life, when demands on their time and money, experienced uncertainty and other negative features tend to decline. As children grow up, job and other activities become established and care-dependent relatives pass away, people’s happiness on average increases.

Personal influences on happiness

But feelings are not entirely determined by what happens to you – they also depend on how you interpret your world. People respond differently to many aspects of the environment, in part through mental filters such as those illustrated below.

Looking at number three in the table, “upward” comparisons (against alternatives which are seen as better than your own situation) encourage unhappiness. Yet sometimes thinking about ways in which life could have turned out worse (making “downward” comparisons) can lead to more positive feelings.

Often mental comparisons involve other people, such as number one in the table. In our 20s “upward” comparisons with other people are common – keeping up with the Jones’s, or checking body shape against celebrities. But in later years reduced levels of striving can be accompanied by more “downward” comparisons. As people move beyond middle age they increasingly review their life so far, often finding “downward” alternatives which can improve their happiness.

Particularly important for understanding why happiness may increase in the later years are processes of mental adaptation. Biological and psychological studies have shown how responses to a stimulus become diminished after repeated presentation. This means that unpleasant conditions can become viewed less negatively after a period of time.

For stimuli that are new, cognition (what you think) and affect (how you feel) tend to be closely intertwined. But after a period of adaptation they may become uncoupled: you may be just as aware of what’s going on, but your feelings become more neutral. As features and events in your life become increasingly familiar they tend to generate less intense emotions, perhaps contributing to a gradual increase in happiness with increasing years.

Together, the combination of these two sets of factors – changes in what life doles out and shifts in the interpretation of those events – can provide some explanation of the U-shape pattern in happiness across ages.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

We are 40 – our MSc Occupational Psychology celebrates four decades of success

Friday, September 25th, 2015


The Institute of Work Psychology (IWP), part of the Management School, has plenty of reason to celebrate this academic year.

Ahead of the biennial conference from 21-23 June 2016, the MSc Occupational Psychology programme has celebrated its 40th anniversary. Long-standing staff, and the programme’s new cohort, joined programme founder Professor Peter Warr for a short talk about the history of the MSC Occupational Psychology and IWP in general, followed by celebratory cake.

Prof Warr’s talk covered the history and development of the field of occupational psychology in the UK, and expressed to attendees how fundamental the University of Sheffield’s Social and Applied Psychology Unit (later to become IWP) was in establishing national recognition and generations of researchers – many of whom are still at Sheffield.

In June 2016, the fifth IWP International Conference will take place, focusing on cutting-edge research and theoretical contributions from all areas of work and organisational psychology, with particular focus on the areas of work, wellbeing and performance.

Held primarily at the Management School, the team hopes to see similar success to the 2014 event where we welcomed over 200 delegates from across 36 countries.

Read more about the conference here.

IWP Conference welcomes the world

Friday, August 1st, 2014

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The Institute of Work Psychology (IWP) held its fourth biennial International Conference at the end of June. The event was a huge success with four renowned keynote speakers, over 200 delegates from across six continents, and a range of cutting-edge research presentations in the areas of work, wellbeing, leadership and performance.

Oliver Weigelt, from the University of Hagen, said of the conference: “It had great networking opportunities, intriguing papers and excellent organisation – as well as a taste of Yorkshire. In the most positive way, an unforgettable event.”

Popular topics at the conference included health, stress and wellbeing; leadership; entrepreneurship; teamwork; creativity and innovation; the dark side of organisations; careers and development; unemployment; diversity; and motivation and engagement.

Continuing its tradition of applying psychology to workplace settings, IWP members delivered a number of business workshops as a fringe to the conference, sharing the latest research on leadership, creativity, and voice in organisations with members of the local business community.

The conference also included a number of research support events, including a developmental workshop for postgraduate students and early career researchers, and a variety of workshops and training courses in quantitative and qualitative research methods led by Dr Chris Stride, Dr Jeremy Dawson, Dr Larry Williams and Professor Penny Dick.

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Beyond the high quality presentations and research support events, the conference lived up to its reputation for creating a friendly and welcoming atmosphere for both first-time attendees and old friends who have attended all four conferences. It continues to be a place where colleagues from across the discipline come together to network, share insights, collaborate, and catch-up. Networking opportunities made the most of Sheffield, with hosted dinners across the city and drinks receptions in the Management School and the Millennium Galleries.

Stephen McGlynn, a PhD student and co-chair of the conference, said: “We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback from delegates. Our keynotes and presenters had a great, real-world focus and approached the event with enthusiasm and creativity. Many of our delegates are already excited about the IWP International Conference 2016!”

Read more about the event here:

View more photographs from the event here:

Interested in a PhD in Leadership & Social Identity?

Monday, December 16th, 2013

Dr. David Rast, III, PhD is currently accepting applications for a doctoral student in the area of group processes, intergroup relations, and leadership.

Project description: Leadership is fundamentally a group process whereby leaders influence a collection of individuals, and vice versa. Past research demonstrates that leader emergence and preference within groups is impacted by feelings of uncertainty about oneself (Rast, Gaffney, Hogg, & Crisp, 2012; Rast, Hogg, & Giessner, 2013). Social identity is an important component in this situation, where considerations of followers’ self-conception are evoked and managed by the group’s leadership. Building on the social identity theory of leadership (Hogg, van Knippenberg, & Rast, 2012), this project will examine how/when leaders, particularly extremist, deviant, or non-prototypical leaders, can strategically use uncertainty to their advantage as a means to strengthen their support by providing ways to ease follower uncertainty and by emphasizing a shared identity.

Potential applicants with demonstrable research interests in the areas of the self-concept, social identity, social influence, collective action, and leadership are strongly preferred. Please email Dr. David Rast at with your CV and a 2-page statement of research interests.

See clearly with Professor Michelle Ryan’s research into the Glass Cliff at SUMS

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

Professor Michelle Ryan is a highly-regarded figure in the world of social and organisational psychology.Ryan Michelle

Her research into the ‘Glass Cliff’ concept led to international press coverage and inclusion in numerous significant and influential research journals. As such, Sheffield University Management School and the Institute of Work Psychology are delighted that Prof Ryan will be visiting the school on 20 November, to deliver a seminar concerning her research.

Titled ‘Uncovering the Glass Cliff: Examining the Precariousness of Women’s leadership Positions’, Prof Ryan will discuss and examine what happens when women (and other minority groups) take on leadership roles. Extending the metaphor of the Glass Ceiling, the Glass Cliff describes the phenomenon whereby individuals belonging to particular groups are more likely to be found in leadership positions that are associated with a greater risk of failure and criticism.

This seminar is of interest to academics and students from many disciplines, ranging from organisational psychology, to women’s issues and sociology. You are able to book a place for the event on our Management Gateway:

Following in the footsteps of Professor Sabine Sonnentag, who discussed proactive work behaviour at the school in October, Prof Ryan’s visit underpins Sheffield University Management School’s high-standard of distinguished academic speakers attending this year’s programme of research seminars.

Michelle Ryan is Professor of Social and Organisational Psychology and Associate Dean (Research and Knowledge Transfer) at the University of Exeter

To book onto the event, click here.

Leading organisational psychology expert Professor Cary Cooper shares insight into the wellbeing agenda

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013


The Management School was delighted to host Distinguished Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University Management School, Cary Cooper, CBE at the University here in Sheffield on the 1st of May to share his expertise on the wellbeing agenda.

Professor Cooper is the author and editor of more than 125 books and is one of Britain’s most quoted business gurus.

This special lecture explored the  wellbeing agenda including new pressures that are emerging on people at work during the current times. Professor Cooper also discussed the costs of stress at work and the strategies for dealing with these issues.

The event was well attended and gave interesting topics for discussion amongst staff and students from the Management School and the faculty.

More about Professor Cary Cooper:
As well as Professor at Lancaster University, he is a founding President of the British Academy of Management, a Companion of the Chartered Management Institute and one of only 5 UK Fellows of the (American) Academy of Management,  President of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy and President of RELATE.

Professor Cooper was the Founding Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior, Editor of the scholarly journal Stress and Health and is the Editor  (with Professor Chris Argyris of Harvard Business School and Professor Bill Starbuck of New York University as Associate Editors) of the Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Management.

He has been an advisor to the World Health Organisation, ILO, and EU in the field of occupational health research and wellbeing, was Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Chronic Disease of the World Economic Forum (2009-2010) and is Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences (comprising 43 learned societies in the social sciences and over 87,000members). In 2001 he was awarded the CBE by the Queen for his contributions to organisational health and safety.

IWP Graduate Wins Practitioner of the Year Award

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012

Congratulations to Kate Bonsall Clarke, an alumna of the Institute of Work Psychology (IWP), on winning the coveted Practitioner of the Year Award for Occupational Psychology.

This prestigious award is granted by the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology, and is annually awarded to a Chartered Psychologist who demonstrates excellence in the practical application of Occupational Psychology.

Kate received the award for her work with the Rail Safety and Standards Board, where she developed, implemented, and evaluated a programme for non-technical skills training for train drivers in the British rail industry.

Almuth McDowall, Chair-Elect of the Division of Occupational Psychology, commended Kate’s work as standing out from others in the shortlist, in that it evaluated its effect at the individual, team and organisational level.  Such an evaluation approach was inspired by the work of Dr Kamal Birdi, a researcher at the world-leading IWP, and one of Kate’s lecturers during her Masters course.

Cyberbullying in the workplace

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Cyberbullying through e-mail, text and web posts is as common in the workplace as conventional bullying but even more difficult to uncover, research by experts from the University of Sheffield has revealed.

Occupational psychologists Dr Christine Sprigg, Dr Carolyn Axtell and Sam Farley of the University of Sheffield, together with Dr Iain Coyne of the University of Nottingham, turned the focus of their investigation onto cyberbullying of adult workers, instead of younger people in schools, for which more research has taken place.

The results of their research will be revealed at a seminar during the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) annual Festival of Social Science at an event in the Showroom Workstation, Paternoster Row, on Wednesday 7 November 2012 from 5pm until 8pm.

The team will also make suggestions on how employers should tackle and prevent cyberbullying in the workplace. Researchers believe that cyberbullying will become more important as communication technologies continue to evolve and become more widespread.

The study included three separate surveys among employees in several UK universities, asking people about their experiences of cyberbullying in the workplace.

Survey respondents were given a list of what can be classed as bullying, such as being humiliated, ignored or gossiped about, and were asked if they had faced such behaviour online and how often.

Of the 320 people who responded to the survey, around eight out of ten had experienced one of the listed cyberbullying behaviours on at least one occasion in the previous six months.

The results also showed 14 to 20 per cent experienced them at least once a week – a similar rate to conventional bullying. The research team also examined the impact of cyberbullying on workers’ mental strain and wellbeing.

“Our research showed that cyberbullying has a stronger negative impact on employee mental strain and job satisfaction than traditional, face to face bullying does,” said Dr Axtell.

The research team also found that the impact of witnessing cyberbullying was different than that seen for conventional bullying.

“In more traditional, face to face bullying, seeing someone else being bullied also has a negative impact on the wellbeing of the witness,” said Dr. Sprigg. “However, we didn’t find the same negative effect for those who said they had witnessed others being cyberbullied.

“This might be because we are less aware of other people’s reactions online, and so the witnesses might not empathise so much with the victims. This could potentially mean that they are less likely to intervene,” Dr Axtell added.

The results of the research, which was partly funded by Sheffield University Management School, will be presented at a seminar to business representatives. “We believe our research will likely have implications for the way that employers formulate policies and guidelines relating to cyberbullying, and the seminar will be an opportunity for us to discuss our findings and learn about the experiences of other employers,” Dr Coyne said.

Additional information

Festival of Social Science

The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council and takes place from 3-10 November 2012. With events from some of the country’s leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives – both now and in the future.

This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 170 creative and exciting events across the UK to encourage businesses, charities, government agencies, schools and college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on twitter using #esrcfestival.

The University of Sheffield

With nearly 25,000 students from 125 countries, the University of Sheffield is one of the UK’s leading and largest universities. A member of the Russell Group, it has a reputation for world-class teaching and research excellence across a wide range of disciplines. The University of Sheffield has been named University of the Year in the Times Higher Education Awards for its exceptional performance in research, teaching, access and business performance. In addition, the University has won four Queen’s Anniversary Prizes (1998, 2000, 2002, and 2007).

These prestigious awards recognise outstanding contributions by universities and colleges to the United Kingdom’s intellectual, economic, cultural and social life. Sheffield also boasts five Nobel Prize winners among former staff and students and many of its alumni have gone on to hold positions of great responsibility and influence around the world. The University’s research partners and clients include Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Unilever, Boots, AstraZeneca, GSK, ICI, Slazenger, and many more household names, as well as UK and overseas government agencies and charitable foundations.

The University has well-established partnerships with a number of universities and major corporations, both in the UK and abroad. Its partnership with Leeds and York Universities in the White Rose Consortium has a combined research power greater than that of either Oxford or Cambridge.


For further information please contact:

Paul Mannion
Media Relations Officer
The University of Sheffield
0114 222 9851


CIPD seminar: New trends in leadership

Friday, October 12th, 2012

This seminar is in association with CIPD South Yorkshire Branch and the University of Sheffield Management School.

Date: 14 November 2012
5.30 to 7.30pm
Boardroom, ICOSS, Sheffield
To register: Please contact Kelly Walker: 0114 23433 or

About the seminar
Dr Ute Stephan at the Institute of Work Psychology at the Management School, will deliver this session, providing an overview of current trends in leadership including the evolving concepts of authentic, ethical and servant leadership as well as leading with meaning. The session will then look at the more strategic view on leadership and discuss what we can learn from leadership research on expert entrepreneurs as well as elaborating on the implications for leadership training and development. The session will be interactive and provide opportunities for participants to reflect on their experience.

For further information about CIPD visit

ESRC event: Walking the tightrope

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

The Management School is pleased to announce further success at the ESRC Festival of Social Sciences.

Date: 8 November 2012
Time: 9am-5pm
Venue: The Edge, The University of Sheffield, Endcliffe
To register: Click here to register your free place at the seminar

This one-day symposium explores how to create effective people, teams and organisations by drawing on the shared expertise and experience of a group of exceptional performers from the worlds of sport, medicine, specialist security and business.

Speakers include:

  • Andy McCann, Sam Brearey, Andy Halliday, – from the World of Elite Sport
  • Mark Stacey – Consultant Anaesthetist, NHS
  • Dr Paul Thomas – BBC Business Doctor, Leadership and Research Fellow in Complexity in Practice
  • Keri Jones – HR Advisor
  • Dr Ute Stephan – Expert in leadership from the Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield
  • Neil Francombe and Steve Eaton – Specialist forces and firearms command

Who should attend?
This event is aimed at local and national businesses.

Further information

The Festival of Social Science is run by the Economic and Social Research Council and takes place from 3-10 November 2012. With events from some of the country’s leading social scientists, the Festival celebrates the very best of British social science research and how it influences our social, economic and political lives – both now and in the future. This year’s Festival of Social Science has over 180 creative and exciting events across the UK to encourage businesses, charities, government agencies, schools and college students to discuss, discover and debate topical social science issues. Press releases detailing some of the varied events and a full list of the programme are available at the Festival website. You can now follow updates from the Festival on twitter using #esrcfestival