Press release 2020/126 from

Occupational psychologist Professor Hannes Zacher from Leipzig University and his team want to conduct interdisciplinary research into the role of work in the development of modern diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases and depression. Until now, occupational and organisational psychology has largely neglected this problem, says Zacher. The Volkswagen Foundation is supporting his project with “Momentum” funding of up to 831,800 euros over the next six years. The funding is aimed at professors shortly after taking up their first tenured professorship, providing opportunities to develop the strategy and focus of their professorship further.

“Psychological theories and methods – especially those that focus on work – are currently not being sufficiently applied with regard to our understanding of modern diseases as a central social challenge,” emphasises Zacher. He notes that as part of its Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations has set the target – through prevention and treatment – of reducing premature deaths due to incommunicable diseases by one third by 2030. The development programme he has requested is intended to make a contribution to meeting this major social challenge.

With his concept, Zacher, who is a researcher at the Department of Psychology at Leipzig University, pursues a transdisciplinary and multidimensional approach integrating research, teaching and transfer. He hopes to achieve five objectives by the end of the funding period. Initially, he will develop theories to better understand relationships between the work context and health-related experiences, behaviours and outcomes. Secondly, he wants to carry out empirical studies that investigate these relationships. Thirdly, Zacher will include several innovations in his teaching programme, such as “flipped classroom” methods to convey the important role of work in the prevention, occurrence and development of modern diseases and to improve student learning and the transfer of knowledge into practice.

He and his team also hope to develop a novel system for arranging internships. The aim is to strategically place bachelor’s and master’s students in companies and public organisations that deal with the topic of work and health. “Fifthly, I will strategically invest in public engagement and research transfer activities, such as public lectures, workshops and social media, to communicate research results from us and other groups to the public, experts in organisations, and policymakers,” reports the 40-year-old.

His programme is in line with Leipzig University’s Sustainable Principles for Life and Health strategic research field and the associated Modern Diseases research profile area. It aims to better understand the mechanisms that lead to modern diseases and to develop innovative and effective prevention, support and treatment programmes.