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The Price of Pain: Studying Strategies Used by Women with Chronic Pain Disability to Sustain Worker Identity

Chronic pain is pain that persists longer than would be expected for healing to occur. It is an invisible disability for 20% of people worldwide, affecting a higher percentage of women than men. It is defined as an invisible disability because it has no immediate physical expression. In the workplace, employers, supervisors and colleagues may not know that work needs to be reconfigured to enable a person with chronic pain to function effectively. This thesis investigates how women with invisible pain disability are able to be successful at work. The research questions as set out in Chapter One are: What is the experience of women in chronic pain who are involved in paid work? How does suffering chronic pain force women to relate to their ‘space’ differently in the workplace? What kind of strategies are put in place to enable women to thrive in the workplace? Chapter One sets out the initial qualitative research design. Its main elements were solicited photo diaries and qualitative semi-structured interviews. Five participants were recruited. However, after three months none of them had completed any diary entries. Chapter Two outlines the modified research methodology that was then developed. A variety of ways of interviewing and questioning participants was used and additional participants were recruited. Information was collected from seven women. Reflections on participants’ responses led to the discovery of the significance of the role of identity in their lives. Two of the significant identities for the women in this project were those of worker and of a person in chronic pain. Chapter Three includes a discussion of how participants manage the clash between these by prioritising their identity as worker over their pain identity. In Chapter Four, seven strategies are identified as the main methods used by participants to maintain their worker identity in the face of their chronic pain. These have been identified through thematic analysis of what the participants reported. The strategies are: modifying the work space, managing their workload, establishing and maintaining positive relationships with employers, developing supportive relationships with colleagues and family, receiving and asking for help when required, disassociating themselves from pain, and managing life outside of work. The conclusion, Chapter Five, summarises the project’s findings about the salience of worker identity and how strategies are used by women to maintain their worker identity. It also includes the methodological insight that the failure of participants to complete solicited diaries arose out of the disruption to identity salience caused by having to focus on their chronic pain disability.
Type of thesis
Ferry-Parker, C. (2017). The Price of Pain: Studying Strategies Used by Women with Chronic Pain Disability to Sustain Worker Identity (Thesis, Master of Social Sciences (MSocSc)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11454
University of Waikato
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