Employment and Vocational Occupation

Project Details

Various employment-related and occupation-focussed research projects have been conducted and continue to be conducted by our group, especially researching programs which provide employment support, including social firms, for people living with severe mental illnesses (SMI). Much of this work has been carried out in partnership with Social Firms Australia (SoFA) and also Professors Ellie Fossey (Monash University), David Castle (University of Melbourne), Marc Corbiere (Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Canada) and Susan Rossell (Swinburne University).

Under-occupation is problematic for people with SMI, whereas work (paid or unpaid) and work-related activities (e.g. study) are integral to better health and quality of life. Most people living with SMI want to work (or study). However, their unemployment rates continue to be unacceptably high due to multiple factors which we are involved in researching. Whilst there are existing effective vocational programs designed to assist people with SMI to return to work or study (e.g. individualised placement and support programs), there is a general problem with such programs in that they might help people get into work but are less good at keeping people in work (i.e. retention).

Social firms are not-for-profit business enterprises whose purpose is to create accessible employment for people with a psychiatric disability. Research led by Professor Susan Rossell (Swinburne University) has been conducted to test whether employees in social firms can improve their work productivity through participation in a cognitive remediation program that aims to improve their thinking skills. In addition, we have conducted comparative research to better understand the workplace adjustments and supports that are effective in improving job retention for employees with a mental illness in social firms in various countries (Australia, Italy and Canada). This research will also give general workplaces evidence on how to effectively support their employees with a mental illness.

We have collected pilot data on the outcomes of a novel ten-session illness self-management group program (HOPE) that educates people with SMI to better manage their health, well-being and stressors whilst pursuing goals such as work and study. Finally, we have performed an integrative literature review to identify factors that impact job tenure, with a focus on community jobs obtained and sustained through supported employment and social firms.


Monash University
Swinburne University
Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), Canada

Social Firms Australia (SoFA, National Disability Services)
Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium


Rossell S, Castle D, Harvey C, Fossey E, Crosse C & Morgain D. Enhancing work place performance and employment outcomes by improving cognitive skills in people with psychiatric disability. 1 year. Mazda Foundation.

Crosse C, Morgain D, Harvey C & Fossey E. Redefining Outcomes: Building an Effective Evaluation Framework for Durable Employment for People with a Psychiatric Disability. 2 years. Consultancy for Social Firms Australia:  The Ian Potter Foundation.

Ennals P, Fossey E, Collister L, Killackey E & Harvey C. The impact of Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria (MIFV) supported postsecondary education programs on the social inclusion of participating adults with mental illness. 10 months. La Trobe University Faculty of Health Sciences Faculty Research Funding.

Research Outcomes

Ennals P, Fossey E, Harvey C & Killackey E. (2014) Postsecondary education: kindling opportunities for people living with mental illness. Asia Pacific Psychiatry 6: 115-119.

Paluch T, Fossey E & Harvey C. (2012) Social firms: Building cross-sectoral partnerships to create employment and supportive workplaces for people with mental illness. WORK 43(2): 63-75.

Williams A, Fossey E & Harvey C. (2012) Social Firms: Creating sustainable employment for people with mental illness. WORK 43(2): 53-62.

Contreras N, Rossell S, Castle D, Fossey E, Morgain D, Crosse C & Harvey C. (2012) Enhancing work-focused supports for people with severe mental illnesses in Australia. Rehabilitation Research and Practice Article ID 863203: 8 pages, doi: 10.1155/2012/863203.

Williams A, Fossey E & Harvey C. (2010) Sustaining employment in a social firm: use of the Work Environment Impact Scale v2.0 to explore views of employees with psychiatric disabilities. British Journal of Occupational Therapy 73: 531-539.

Williams A, Fossey E, Corbiere M, Paluch T & Harvey C. Making a difference to job tenure for people with severe mental illnesses: An integrative literature review. In press to Australian Journal of Occupational Therapy.

Research Group

Psychosocial Research Group

Faculty Research Themes


School Research Themes

Neuroscience & Psychiatry

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre


MDHS Research library
Explore by researcher, school, project or topic.