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Kate Summers
Research Assistant
Kate Summers

Self-Managing MSDs at Work: The Power of the Personal Account (Part 2)

Authors: Kate Summers

09 September 2014

I wrote yesterday that work itself should be considered as a form of self-management. Likewise, there are numerous ways of self-managing one’s health condition at work. These were revealed by the study we published on Friday, the findings of which came from interviews with individuals living with a musculoskeletal disorder, and thus offered us unique insights.

Today, I am going to discuss another pertinent finding which revolves around the relationship between individuals with MSDs and their line managers. In order to manage their condition at work individuals sometimes needed adjustments to their job setup (e.g. changes to their workstation, alterations to responsibilities, or flexibility or changes to their hours). It was found that approaching one’s line manager to request adjustments was a complex process. For example, some participants saw it as a reciprocal exchange, whereby they could only ask for an adjustment if they had proven themselves and contributed sufficiently to the organisation.


 “Part of it I think is because I know that I’ve worked so hard and my employer and the one particular line manager knows how hard that I have worked.  So from that respect I know that she would always be very tolerant and that I could more or less ask her for anything [in terms of adjustments].”

Participant 2

It was found that other participants were reluctant to ask for adjustments from their line manager, citing fear of negative judgement and job loss as key contributors to this reluctance.

“I don’t know [why I haven’t asked for adjustments], I just feel that there’s a lot of people looking for work. I just don’t want to cause any waves; I’d rather have    the attention away from me.”

Participant 10

The report’s recommendations (pp.85-90) detail how all stakeholder groups can do more to support the self-management of chronic conditions in the workplace, a selection of which follow:

• The government must do more to support individuals working in smaller organisations, which often do not have the resources to provide appropriate support. Increasing awareness of, and participation in, Access to Work is one way to begin increasing this support.

 • The government can also do more to incentivise healthcare professionals to consider and treat individuals with MSDs in a holistic way, including offering support and guidance around their working lives. By including work as an outcome in the CCG Outcomes indicator set steps can be made towards this goal.

• Employers need to understand their responsibilities to people with disabilities and long term health conditions, including the provision of reasonable adjustments. Employers should also create opportunities to discuss an employee’s condition which is separate to discussions about performance, so that managing their condition is not tied up with their ability as an employee.  

• Line managers should be proactive in seeking out information about MSDs, and in asking the employee how they can be supported to do their job. Line managers should also consider the importance of supporting mental as well as physical health: living with an MSD is not restricted to managing the physical symptoms of the condition.

 • Healthcare professionals need to understand how crucial it is to provide individuals with quick diagnoses and appropriate medication regimes as quickly as possible. It is only when these are set in place that individuals can begin to learn to manage their condition, including in the context of work.

It is by conducting interviews with individuals with lived experiences of managing their MSD in work that the nuances of the challenges faced can be revealed. It is hoped that solutions will be enacted that are equally sensitive to these complexities.