Exploring the Role of Employers and Managers in Supporting People with Long-Term Conditions in the Workplace

UoM administered thesis: Phd


Background: Evidence from the employee perspective frequently suggests that unsupportive managerial relations present a considerable barrier to those with long-term health conditions (LTCs) both on their ability to sustain employment and manage their condition at work. However, little is empirically known about employers' and managers' experiences of supporting those with LTCs, or indeed about their perception of their supportive role in the social context of the workplace on which employees suggest they depend for workplace success. This presents a disparity in understanding the contribution of the management role in influencing the (re)entry process to employment for those with LTCs. This is important to explore in light of ongoing objectives by the UK Government to move people with LTCs off incapacity benefits and back into the labour force, as any successful return to work will largely be influenced by employers' and managers' readiness to support them.Method: A qualitative approach informed by Grounded Theory principles to guide data collection and analysis was taken for this 3½ year study (September 2009 to March 2013). 40 semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with employers and managers from a range of organisations in the North West of England and analysed thematically. Findings were interpreted in relation to a framework of sociological theories of emotion and work. Results: Regardless of industry type, sector and size or condition, several themes emerged which contributed to a sense of burden and tension for participants in supporting those with LTCs. These included discerning legitimacy and tangibility of conditions, having difficult conversations with employees and the influence of the employees' personality on support. More significantly, all bar one participant typified their role as one of a difficult 'balancing' act of additional and often incompatible demands, pressures and feelings arising from managing a complex and emotive situation many considered non-normative to their everyday role. This was typified by feelings of conflict and emotional discomfort, interpreted as ambivalence, stemming from contradictions between and within the normative expectations of their social roles and appropriate feeling rules. For example between the obligations of the professional 'public' managerial role in providing value to the organisation, and philanthropic concerns for the welfare of the employee concomitant with their personal 'private' role as an individual. Interpreted from a combination of both spoken word and 'unsaid' gestures, is the emotion management conducted by managers to cope with negative feelings of ambivalence in a culture which favours rationality over emotionality. Conclusion: Overall, findings indicate that participants in this study concur with the employees' perspective as to the importance of socially supportive managerial relations. However, it is theorised that managing the emotions of ambivalence serves to undermine manager's capacity to translate intention to provide support into tangible action, and hence is reflected in the employee's perception of unsupportive relations. It is suggested that this research could be used to inform the development of a potential intervention to support managers in their pivotal role in the return-to-work process, being beneficial for all stakeholders - the Government, employees and employers alike.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Aug 2014