There is an evident discrepancy between need and provision of evidence-based return-to-work (RTW) interventions in existing mental health services. Online dissemination of evidence-based interventions is presumed to reduce this gap. However, there is almost no knowledge available on perceived acceptability of digital RTW interventions among service users, which are factors that might influence the development and implementation of future interventions. The aim of this study was to develop knowledge of service user acceptability of mWorks, a proposed digital RTW solution.
Participants (n = 18) with experience of common mental disorder and sick leave were recruited with a purposive snowball sampling method. Semi-structured interviews (n = 12) and one focus group interview (n = 6) were conducted. A deductive thematic analysis was performed according to the Theoretical Framework of Acceptability.
Digital RTW interventions were perceived as acceptable and aligned with participant value. Participants expressed positive attitudes toward having access to support, regardless of time and place. A certain ambiguity between a decline in social interactions and opportunities to RTW in a safe space was reported. Participants were confident in their ability to use digital RTW solutions, but reported the need to reduce stressful elements of using smartphones. Overly demanding digital solutions, i.e. ones requiring high cognitive effort, were described as burdensome.
For digital RTW solutions to be acceptable, they need to complement traditional services by providing accessible and person-centred support throughout the RTW process. They should be designed to reduce the need for cognitive effort. Future research should explore how to balance user autonomy with other support components in digital interventions.