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  Making workplace adjustments for employees who experience mental health problems: An implementation research approach to understanding the influences and barriers experienced by line-managers.

   Division of Health Research

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  Dr N Fisher, Dr P Holland  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Rationale: During working life most people, however briefly, will experience mental health problems that are work-related or impact on work. There is strong evidence that working is generally good for mental health[1] and can support recovery [2]. However, the likelihood of being in employment with a mental health problem is determined by the availability of flexible and inclusive workplace policies and practices and the willingness of line-managers to implement workplace adjustments (e.g. reduced hours, different duties) when needed. Meta-analysis of 140 studies shows the importance of line-managers role in supporting employee’s transitions between work, absences and adjustments as mental health significantly worsens after the loss of a job and improves on re-employment [3].

The gap: There is considerable evidence regarding the efficacy of such adjustments in supporting job retention for workers with physical conditions[4] but little is known about the capacity of line-managers to implement adjustments to support workers with mental health problems, particularly given their invisible and fluctuating nature. Furthermore, line-managers’ capacity to support workers with mental health problems is limited by their understanding of policy, mental health and accessibility of resources.

Relevance to policy and practice: Influenced by discussions with the Department of Work and Pensions and Lancashire County Council this project takes an implementation research approach [5] to understanding how employers can work to increase workplace inclusivity, health and wellbeing. This project is very timely and brings together mental and public health. The approach to ensuring evidence can inform practice will be grounded in implementation science theory.

Potential research approaches and skills that will be developed through the PhD:
• A systematic review (SR) will focus on what is understood about the availability and efficacy of workplace adjustments for mental health conditions.
• The SR will inform interviews with line-managers and employees that explore experiences of implementing inclusive policies, practices and workplace adjustments across organisational size and sector.
• Applicability of existing implementation models will be assessed based on how they address and guide changes to willingness and barriers to working that reduces the likelihood of long-term absences or loss of employees identified in the PhD.

Successful applicants will be able to demonstrate in their application:
• Enthusiasm for taking a health research approach to issues that are happening in organisations
• Able to work independently with the guidance of the supervision team
• Identify what skills or experiences will support their development as a researcher
• Have good time and data management
• Willingness to listen sensitively to line-managers and employees experiences of mental health

Supervisory Team: Dr Naomi Fisher (Lecturer in Mental Health) and Dr Paula Holland (Lecturer in Public Health). Paula and I really enjoy working together and are both based at Lancaster University in the Division for Health Research. As lead supervisor the PhD will be part of my work in the Spectrum Centre for Mental Health Research in which I work closely with Professors Steve Jones and Fiona Lobban.

Informal enquires about the project should be made directly to Dr Naomi Fisher. Applications are made by completing an application for PhD Health Research October 2017 through our online application system. Closing date, midnight 3rd April 2017.

Funding Notes

Awards are available for UK or EU students only for a maximum of three years full-time study. Awards will cover University Fees and Doctoral Stipend (2017-2018: £14,553).


1. Waddell, G. and A.K. Burton, Is work good for your health and well-being? 2006: The Stationery Office.
2. Provencher, H.L., et al., The role of work in the recovery of persons with psychiatric disabilities. Psychiatric rehabilitation journal, 2002. 26(2): p. 132-144.
3. Paul, K.I. and K. Moser, Unemployment impairs mental health: Meta-analyses. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 2009. 74(3): p. 264-282.
4. Waddell, G., A.K. Burton, and N.A. Kendall, Vocational rehabilitation-what works, for whom, and when? 2008, Vocational Rehabilitation Task Group.
5. May, C.R., et al., Development of a theory of implementation and integration: Normalization Process Theory. Implement Sci, 2009. 4.

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