Stephen Bevan – a tribute

Stephen Bevan who has passed away produced work that was compelling, and with a clear prescription for how things could be betterWe are deeply sorry to announce that our dear friend and colleague, Stephen Bevan has passed away. Steve has been such an important part of so many of our lives over the years – through his work, as a mentor and as a friend – and we will miss him hugely. It is impossible to do justice to the impact that Steve has had over more than forty years at IES and the Work Foundation. Anyone who knew Steve was the better for it, and we will all have our own cherished memories of time spent with him. So, while we grieve his loss, it’s also a moment for us to celebrate his life and the impact he made. Steve encouraged us to think differently, challenged us to go further and inspired us to make a difference. And now more than ever, he would want us to carry this work on.

Many of us will have known Steve for his deep expertise and impact on improving health and wellbeing at work. Over more than two decades, Steve has been the leading voice on employment policy and workplace practice: advising governments and independent reviews, working directly with major employers, and leading research to help improve our understanding of what works and what could make a difference. After joining the Work Foundation in 2002 as Research Director, Steve was instrumental in shaping what back then felt like an emerging agenda, first through establishing and then chairing the UK Fit for Work Coalition, and then in setting up a new Health at Work Policy Unit to share insight and drive improvement.

More than a decade on, many of those same debates about sickness, health and work have come back round. So I’ve missed Steve even more in the last couple of months, not just for his expertise and advice, but for his ability to cut through the rhetoric, to make things simple, to skewer a false assumption or a lazy narrative, to challenge us, but also to show how things could be better. More than once as we’ve read headlines about ‘sicknote Britain’ and whether mental illness is real, I’ve thought of Steve and what he would have said. And more often than not, I’ve been able to find what he had already said – like twenty years ago, when he was calling out the CBI for saying too many workers are off sick; or a decade ago making the case for being positive about mental health; or just last summer, setting out what really drives health-related job loss. All as only Steve could – straightforward, compelling, and with a clear prescription for how things could be better.

Straightforward, compelling, and with a clear prescription for how things could be better

In reality, Steve’s research interests and his expertise ranged far wider than health and wellbeing, working across areas as diverse as pay and reward strategy, performance management, employee engagement and flexible working. The common thread through all of this was Steve’s belief that we could make work better – more rewarding, secure, inclusive, worthwhile – and his determination to do something about it. Talking about Steve’s work, though, will never do justice to the person that he was – his kindness, generosity, wisdom, integrity and sense of humour. The values that he talked about in his work were the ones that he lived by too, and he set an example for all of us.

Steve rejoined IES in 2016, but sadly was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer two years later. He returned to part-time work in the summer of 2019, although typically he never really stopped working through his treatment and recovery: writing about how to solve the productivity puzzle, finding meaning in work, managing sickness absence and much more. Since his diagnosis Steve was always open in talking about his illness and his prognosis, but it was devastating when we learnt early last year that his cancer had returned. Even then, Steve continued to write – becoming an Ambassador for Working With Cancer, writing movingly of his own experiences, and co-authoring a guide to supporting employees with terminal illness.

Throughout this time, Steve has been supported by his wife Jenny and his four children. And while we will remember Steve for the difference that he has made through his work and on our lives, he was always happiest of all when he was talking about his family – Jenny, his children, and the deep joy of being a grandparent to seven beautiful grandchildren. Our thoughts and condolences are with Jenny and the family at this time.

Writing these words, and reading back even these few examples of Steve’s work, brings back so many fond memories and reiterates what a loss it is to all of us that Steve is no longer here. However it also reminds me of what Steve wanted and was driven by, and the responsibility that we all have in carrying this work on. I know that if Steve were here he would not want us to just talk about his work, he would want us to do something about it, to act on it. So we’ll be saying more about this in the coming months, but for now have put together a selection of his writings over the last twenty years both at IES and the Work Foundation – so that the next time you think of Steve, or just want a bit of wisdom, insight, inspiration and occasional corny joke about work, it’ll all be in one place.

For today though, we mourn Steve’s loss but are profoundly, deeply thankful to him for the difference he has made to our lives.