EFPA interviews: Vince Pelzer and Maggie van den Heuvel from University of Amsterdam (UvA)

A new interview in the EFPA News Magazine informs about the progress of the H-WORK project and provide insights into the role of the different partners of the consortium. EFPA is one of the 14 partners of the H-WORK project. This time, Bruna Zani interviewed Vince Pelzer, PhD Candidate at the University of Amsterdam, and Maggie van den Heuvel, Assistant Professor at UvA.

1.Can you present us your team and the role of the members in the H-Work Project?

Of course! The UvA-team has 4 members in total: Vince Pelzer, Maggie (Machteld) van den Heuvel, Roy Sijbom, and Edwin van Hooft.

Even though everyone is doing a bit of everything in our team, we are all experts on different areas.

Vince’ brings knowledge on both work and organisational psychology as well as behavioral change interventions to the project. Vince manages the day-to-day H-WORK activities , including contact with all partners and managing the H-WORK deadlines. As a PhD-student, Vince is learning a lot from all the different aspects of such a big international project, and really enjoys to manage all different H-WORK tasks.

Maggie is assistant professor and brings expertise on occupational health psychology, positive psychology, intervention studies, training & leadership coaching. For H-WORK Maggie mainly manages the development and implementation of the H-WORK interventions in our two test-sites. She also contributes theoretical and methodological knowledge for the various studies in the Netherlands.  Maggie enjoys translating theory into practise, connecting academia and organisations (as she enjoyed doing for H-WORK), and helping both individuals, teams and leaders to grow and optimise health and well-being.  

Roy is an assistant professor and his expertise is mainly in the areas of leadership, burnout, learning climate, motivation. Roy supports the H-WORK project using his theoretical and methodological knowledge and project management skills. He is structured and helps to achieve H-WORK project goals.

Edwin is full professor. His main areas of expertise are motivation and self-regulation, job search, boredom, learning goals, multilevel studies and intervention research. Edwin contributes to H-WORK both on the overall project management side as well as the theoretical and methodological side of the studies we conduct in the Netherlands. He also has in-depth knowledge of one of our test sites and has extensive experience with running intervention studies in organisations.

2. What is the role of your organization in the H-Work Project?

The University of Amsterdam (UvA) is responsible for Work Package 4 (WP4): the implementation of H-WORK interventions. This means that we manage the implementation of interventions in the different test sites, organise group calls to discuss progress and to see whether a project partner needs help somewhere.

3. What has your team accomplished in the project so far (results)?

As lead of WP4, we have compiled several reports for the EU to show the progress of each test site. This means that we collected valuable implementation-data from each test-site, including aspects such as key components of interventions, number of participants reached, whether interventions were implemented according to the protocol et cetera. These deliverables gave insight in how the interventions were implemented and what aspects of the implementation were most important. This document also helped us to monitor the progress of each partner with their test-sites.

Furthermore, UvA collaborates with two Dutch test-sites as well. So far, we have developed and implemented the strengths-based team-crafting intervention with various project teams at our test-site Rijkswaterstaat, a large public organization focused on infrastructure and water management. Also, we are using Sociomapping with two departments within the UvA.

In addition, we have made progress on the H-WORK Implementation Toolkit (HIT), where all the H-WORK interventions will be described. This will later be completed once we have the full information and working ingredients of all H-WORK interventions.

4. What are you currently working on and what are the next steps?

The next steps are practical: continuing the implementation of the various interventions in our Dutch test sites, as well as monitoring the implementation of the interventions in the test-sites of our H-WORK partners. Besides team crafting sessions, leadership coaching and sociomapping, we are developing a career crafting training for junior teachers at UvA, and we will start the implementation of these training sessions before the summer if all goes according to plan.

Furthermore, we are continuing to develop the HIT-toolkit by including more H-WORK interventions, and by aligning our goals for this toolkit with Work Package 6: dissemination. This is important because we want to stimulate end-users to use our toolkit in order to promote mental health across Europe, also after the close of the H-WORK project.

5. What are your expectations regarding the outcomes of the project, after 2 years of work? There has been a change re the initial expectations?

Although we’ve all had to be flexible and some delays occurred due to Corona, the expectations have not changed significantly in our view: we see all consortium members playing their part and striving to, support or facilitate the development and implementation of interventions and toolkits that will help to promote mental health in SME’s and public organisations. From a research perspective, due to changing circumstances, we have had to adjust our approach slightly at times. However, this generates new learning points and we see this as a great advantage of working together with various academic partners, i.e., continuous learning and knowledge exchange. 

Both from a WP4 perspective, as well as the consortium as a whole, we believe we are still on the right path to achieve our H-WORK goals and we are enjoying the collaboration within the consortium.

6. What are currently the main obstacles for your work in general and in the project?

As lead of WP4, we see that it is sometimes hard to align research goals with the needs of the test sites. Also, as researchers, we tend to talk about ‘teams’ quite easily, assuming that every employee belongs to one main team, reporting to one manager. Yet, the reality in our test site is much more complex, since every employee is part of various teams and reports to various managers about various topics. This requires a research method that takes into account these realities of organizational life with ongoing changes and unforeseen events.

7. What has been and still is the impact of COVID on the work of your organization for the project?

We can’t deny that COVID did have an impact. As lead of WP4, we try to monitor what this means for the implementation of interventions. In our Group 1 test sites, almost all interventions were conducted online, even though these interventions were originally designed as face-to-face programs. What we see so far, is that this change seems to have been handled very well by the partners and that most interventions were still able to be done online. The facilitators are worked extra hard to make the most out of the online-situations. For facilitators, it is of course harder to make contact and engage with intervention participants. Particularly for team sessions, online is not ideal, we are therefore happy that we can run our team sessions face-to-face. So far, we have no indication that the online delivery has had a negative impact on how the participants perceived the interventions. The work of Work Package 5 (Evaluate) will be of great importance to capture if and how online delivery was perceived by participating employees and how this may have affected the outcomes of the interventions.

8. What is the biggest strength of your organization in advancing the project?

In our team we have highly relevant knowledge and expertise on the topic of mental health at work, both in theory and in practice. Further, we have brought two large public organisations on board, which may help to disseminate the H-WORK interventions further, even after the close of the project. 

9. How do you think your organization and EFPA can collaborate?

We are looking forward to discuss that further! We see possibilities as a university, and we think students might also benefit from knowing about EFPA. Without a doubt there will be other ways to strengthen each other’s goals.

Thank you for the interview!