Background: In 2019, Public Health England commissioned the authors of this paper to conduct research examining healthcare professionals’ conversations about work with their patients to inform policy aimed at reducing work loss due to ill health. Aims and objectives: The purpose of this paper is to show how the commission provided a unique opportunity for the authors to collaborate with the funders to address obstacles to policy progress. Methods: A steering group was established to revise the original remit of research. In outlining that process here, qualitative data collected from a wide range of healthcare professionals as part of the commission are presented for the first time. We are able to further illuminate and expand on the previously published report findings and policy recommendations, revealing novel insights on researcher-policy engagement. Findings: Robust implementation of ‘work-focused healthcare’ policy has been limited, resulting in an overwhelming lack of empirical data and misguided directives. However, the existing evidence did provide important information about obstacles to policy progress and how to overcome them. The qualitative data were instrumental in this respect, with healthcare professionals revealing various interpretations of, and discourse on the policy. Discussion and conclusions: This paper adds to the expanding literature which suggests that long term, mutualistic, collaborative working is central to addressing barriers to improving evidence use and mobilising health policy into practice. It was shown that tacit, generous, open, empathic and ongoing knowledge exchange, advocacy, and alliances are needed.