Improving the acceptability of workplace mental well-being platforms through ethical design and use

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: School of Medicine


Increasingly, workplaces are shifting their attention towards digitalised solutions, such as wellbeing self-help technologies, that are intended for use by employees to manage their own wellbeing (Jones et al., 2021; Torous et al., 2020). This comes at a time when hybrid and remote working practices are becoming more common as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Productivity and well-being are seen to go hand in hand, making the sharing of mental well-being data in the workplace a highly sensitive topic. Some digital mental well-being platforms reinvent the way in which workplace organisations can support their employees, often through decision-maker dashboards, which can open up new channels for leadership communication (Truong & McLachlan, 2022). However, with growing concerns of limitless worker surveillance (Ajunwa, Crawford & Schultz, 2017) and strains on employee relations as a result of 'dataveillance' techniques (e.g., Ball, 2014), questions remain as to how these platforms can be designed and used to truly fulfil their intended purpose. There is reason to believe that incorrect promotion and use of these platforms may, ironically, have negative implications for employees' mental well-being. The following PhD explores key stakeholder perspectives towards these platforms, starting with prospective end-users, and seeks to understand how they may affect the actual well-being of individuals within an organisation. Adopting a combination of qualitative and quantitative approaches, this PhD predominantly employs low-fidelity prototyping methods from HCI in combination with semi-structured interviews. Survey data will also be captured to improve the representativeness of earlier findings to a variety of work settings and roles. A set of recommendations for employers and wellbeing platform developers will be produced at the end of this PhD to foster greater acceptability of these technologies, with a strong focus on users' feelings of control over their personal data.

Planned Impact

We will collaborate with over 40 partners drawn from across FMCG and Food; Creative Industries; Health and Wellbeing; Smart Mobility; Finance; Enabling technologies; and Policy, Law and Society. These will benefit from engagement with our CDT through the following established mechanisms:

- Training multi-disciplinary leaders. Our partners will benefit from being able to recruit highly skilled individuals who are able to work across technologies, methods and sectors and in multi-disciplinary teams. We will deliver at least 65 skilled PhD graduates into the Digital Economy.

- Internships. Each Horizon student undertakes at least one industry internship or exchange at an external partner. These internships have a benefit to the student in developing their appreciation of the relevance of their PhD to the external societal and industrial context, and have a benefit to the external partner through engagement with our students and their multidisciplinary skill sets combined with an ability to help innovate new ideas and approaches with minimal long-term risk. Internships are a compulsory part of our programme, taking place in the summer of the first year. We will deliver at least 65 internships with partners.

- Industry-led challenge projects. Each student participates in an industry-led group project in their second year. Our partners benefit from being able to commission focused research projects to help them answer a challenge that they could not normally fund from their core resources. We will deliver at least 15 such projects (3 a year) throughout the lifetime of the CDT.

- Industry-relevant PhD projects. Each student delivers a PhD thesis project in collaboration with at least one external partner who benefits from being able to engage in longer-term and deeper research that they would not normally be able to undertake, especially for those who do not have their own dedicated R&D labs. We will deliver at least 65 such PhDs over the lifetime of this CDT renewal.

- Public engagement. All students receive training in public engagement and learn to communicate their findings through press releases, media coverage.

This proposal introduces two new impact channels in order to further the impact of our students' work and help widen our network of partners.

- The Horizon Impact Fund. Final year students can apply for support to undertake short impact projects. This benefits industry partners, public and third sector partners, academic partners and the wider public benefit from targeted activities that deepen the impact of individual students' PhD work. This will support activities such as developing plans for spin-outs and commercialization; establishing an IP position; preparing and documenting open-source software or datasets; and developing tourable public experiences.

- ORBIT as an impact partner for RRI. Students will embed findings and methods for Responsible Research Innovation into the national training programme that is delivered by ORBIT, the Observatory for Responsible Research and Innovation in ICT ( Through our direct partnership with ORBIT all Horizon CDT students will be encouraged to write up their experience of RRI as contributions to ORBIT so as to ensure that their PhD research will not only gain visibility but also inform future RRI training and education. PhD projects that are predominantly in the area of RRI are expected to contribute to new training modules, online tools or other ORBIT services.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
EP/S023305/1 01/10/2019 31/03/2028
2603227 Studentship EP/S023305/1 01/10/2021 30/09/2025 Emma Gentry