Rapid Breakthrough

Using a ‘design fiction’ approach to imagine more desirable work propositions that promote good mental health and are attractive to workers.


Many current work cultures are causing workers – especially female workers – to experience debilitating mental health issues. This is the result of longstanding ’anti-human’ ways of working, expressed by, for example, the rise of ‘always on’ work culture, and psychologically unsatisfying types of work. Covid 19 and the remote working practices it has engendered has, in some instances, exacerbated the issue.

General symptoms presented by workers include increased levels of anxiety, depression, and poor sleep. Worker burnout and rising rates of worker presenteeism, absenteeism and attrition are also clear signals. Sectors particularly affected include retail, healthcare, social work, emergency services, creative industries (e.g. architecture, design), management consultancy and law.

The emotional and financial cost of this for individuals, their families and loved ones, for teams and businesses, and for health care payers and providers is huge, running into the many $billions.

To help address this problem and imagine a more satisfying future in which all can flourish, we collaborated with Service Design MA students from the Royal College of Art. Additional support and guidance was provided by the Royal Society of Medicine. Phase 1 of the project focused on understanding what workers in sectors exhibiting high levels of poor mental health currently feel about work, and what they would value in a work experience. Phase 2 used what was found in Phase 1 to identify a range of possible, plausible and preferred future work ‘states’, and to describe the first steps needed to achieve them.


  • Primary research on current/ future/ desirable worker experiences based on 60+ interviews
  • Desk research on trends in work (e.g. work models, in employee groups etc) & in new disruptive technology
  • Stakeholder mapping and empathy map creation
  • Future of work preferred state definition & ideas generation workshop
  • Future of work preferred state storytelling asset and use case creation
  • Backcasting workshop to create tangible steps connecting current state to preferred future state
  • Ideas ‘pressure test’ workshop with key stakeholders/ SMEs/ start-ups
  • Direct input into worker proposition design workshops with several high performance businesses


  • Evidence-based insight about what workers’ key pain points, drivers & motivators are
  • Alignment on what is/ is not working in existing employee value propositions
  • Clear understanding of what a future employee value proposition looks like
  • Shared, clear view on what types of work model & tools could support desired proposition
  • Establishment of a wide network of experts ready to share & test out ideas
  • Invitations to speak at a number of industry events & ‘closed door’ sessions with private businesses
  • Direct impact on several businesses’ employee value proposition design


Other kind contributions were made by a number of individuals working in different organisations:

  • Peloton
  • UBS
  • CIPD
  • Sky
  • 87%
  • Singulier
  • Tide
  • What Works Centre for Wellbeing
  • Headlight
  • The NHS
  • Boston Consulting Group
  • Glasgow School of Art
  • Health Advances

Image Credit: Can Pac Swire


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