Imagine a world in which almost all organizations are typified by greed, selfishness, manipulation, secrecy, and a single-minded focus on winning… Now imagine another world in which almost all organizations are typified by appreciation, collaboration, virtuousness, vitality, and meaningfulness.  

Cameron, Dutton & Quinn, 2003

This is the proposition put to more than 400 undergraduate UTS Business School students each semester in their core management subject: Management Skills. 

Based on concepts of “cultivating individual and organisational flourishing,” and “optimal functioning” drawn from positive psychology and positive organisational scholarship (POS), students learn theories of organisational compassion, workplace well-being, resilience, and optimism.  

This year for the first time, students were given the opportunity to apply these theories to a real-life organisation: icare. 

Meeting challenges

As the largest insurance group in Australia icare has a $90 billion turn-over and employs close to 1,800 staff. Over the past seven years icare has integrated various insurance schemes for workers in NSW to deliver better outcomes for the people it serves. Amid their commitment to create a workplace dedicated to caring for the people of NSW – building trust, confidence and thriving in their communities, the global pandemic hit. During this time, there were COVID lockdowns, turnover in leadership, mixed technological support for innovation and a genuinely complex business to work on simplifying. Like many organisations, icare is emerging from this period. Having briefed students on their organisation earlier in the semester, icare provided students with the following challenge: 

How do we accelerate cultural change during significant business transformation, including the shift from working from home to transition to working from the office?

Management Skills students were in a good position to provide fresh perspectives and ideas to meet this challenge – given both their own transition back on to campus and the opportunity to apply “POS” theories to a real organisation. From week 6, tutorials took on the authentic scenario of a real workplace. Student groups had the responsibility for each leading an interactive training session framed as a professional staff development activity. These were based on weekly topics and included recommendations for how their theory could be applied to the icare challenge. Assessment criteria included class engagement, professional delivery, application of theory to practice, use of course content and research skills. Students also provided feedback to each other, utilising growth mindset principles. 

A slide from one of the winning teams. “Organisational Compassion and the icare Challenge”

Presentations were then shortlisted, to be judged by icare General Managers for Culture and Capability, Workplace and Wellbeing, and Strategy Governance and Operations. Student groups were judged based on the extent to which they successfully applied their theory to the icare challenge and flowing from this, the practical steps that icare could implement. This resulted in four winning teams who together with the shortlisted finalists, were recognised at the inaugural “icare-UTS Industry Partnership Award” event in the final week’s lecture, on campus, receiving certificates and personalised email banners.   

The winning students in the 'Inclusion' category in the icare-UTS Industry Partnership Award.
The winning team in the ‘Inclusion’ category consisted of Olivia Freeman-Pinhorn, Eesha Divi, Varun Upadhyay, Riley Brayshaw, Judith Tran.

Feedback for students

As a pilot, feedback from all stakeholders was resoundingly positive:  

“We were particularly interested in presentations that explained theory and could be implemented, with immediate impact, to help us with our Gather Together challenge. Some of your ideas are already being implemented… we also learned a lot about what a future workforce was looking for in their workplaces.” 

icare’s Group Executive People and Culture, Amanda-Lea Smith

Students also found the opportunity highly valuable:

I feel the partnership provides more meaning and context to the work that we’re doing. I felt like there’s more personal commitment to it. 

We felt motivated to produce strategies that are really beneficial for the organisation to help solve the challenge that they’re facing. Because it’s such a real-life challenge that really needs to be solved.

UTS Student Experience Framework

As a distinctive UTS experience, the icare partnership provides a useful case study for the proposed UTS Student Experience Framework. It addresses the four threshold domains:  

  1. Academic engagement – students’ active participation and contribution to icare. 
  2. Belonging – building relationships across group, class, and partner. 
  3. Wellbeing – engaging in and applying theories of wellbeing. 
  4. Partnerships – collaboration and mutual engagement with external partners in the icare challenge.   

The catalyst for the partnership between icare and the Business School was Dr Isabelle Phillips: ‘I have worked with icare on culture and leadership effectiveness since 2015. icare delivers incredibly important services to Australian workers and does so in a complex context. Their aspirations for healthy work environments and flourishing workplace cultures for their own workers and for all employers in NSW is intrinsically linked to their core business of insuring worker safety. Through this partnership project icare have gifted business transparency to our students.” 

The winning students in the 'Innovation' category in the icare-UTS Industry Partnership Award.
The winning team in the ‘Innovation’ category consisted of Zachary Firj, Edward Bell, Ghada Elarnaout, Haaiqa Salik, Massimo Rotondo.

Trust and authenticity emerged as foundational to the partnership, resonating with the five WIL (Work Integrated Learning) principles of the UTS WIL Quality Framework to purposefully embed professional practice education into the core curriculum. This WIL practice strengthens authentic, supportive, and collaborative partnerships. In addition to honing their teamwork and professional training skills, it gives students a career advantage by developing skills in applying principles of POS and positive psychology such as workplace wellbeing, to real workplace practices, together with ethical, communicative attributes which are assessed by both academics and external partners. 

The partnership supports the Business School’s strategic principle of contributing to the public good – “helping businesses and organisations make better decisions to promote economic and social wellbeing.” The partnership also supports UTS’ commitment to the UN Sustainable Development Goals SDG 3 (Wellbeing) and SDG 17 (Partnerships).  

To learn more about Positive Organisational Scholarship (POS), check out its Australian Community of Practice, hosted by the Business School. 

2023 WIL Symposium – Enhancing the Student Experience through Quality WIL

This year’s WIL Symposium is putting the spotlight on the WIL practices of colleagues from across faculties. Join in on Thursday 3 August from 10:00am-1:00pm to connect and share stories with colleagues. You can register via the link below.

Join the discussion