Working with Persistent Pain: An Exploration of Strategies Utilised to Stay Productive at Work
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Purpose: Maintaining productive employment for people with persistent pain conditions is challenging. This study aims to explore supports—work and non-work— used by employees to assist them in maintaining productive employment. Methods: An exploratory, mixed-methods study comprising a questionnaire battery followed by semi-structured interviews to collect in-depth qualitative data was undertaken. The questionnaires measured descriptive variables used to select participants for interviews based on maximum heterogeneity sampling. Thirty-five semi-structured interviews were undertaken (14 males; 21 females). The interview schedule covered: employment situation, workplace challenges, workplace supports, coping strategies, motivations, future employment options and any other resources utilised. Inductive content analysis was undertaken using a grounded theory approach to systematically explore the data. Results: Three key themes were identified: barriers to working productively, enablers to working productively, disclosing my condition at work. A key determinant of maintaining productive employment was a supportive employer. In addition, flexibility in the work organisation was also pivotal in maintaining sustainable, productive employment. An important issue emerged with regard to disclosure of one’s condition to an employer. For some, this was a significant barrier to employment. Conclusions: To ensure sustainable employment is attainable for those with persistent pain conditions, a good match is required between an employee and their work. Workplace accommodations may assist with improving job fit but this requires disclosure of a condition to an employer. Weighing up the risks and benefits of disclosure is difficult, and may be assisted by knowledge of available supports to assist with maintaining ongoing employment.
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