Management of chronic musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace from the perspective of older employees
: A mixed methods research study

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Abstract

Introduction

Chronic musculoskeletal disorders (CMSDs) are one of the major health issues affecting European workplaces. Demographic changes have prompted governments to change retirement policies and extend the pension age. The move towards sustained employability over the longer term poses many challenges for older employees that may not be in line with the political agenda. This Mixed Methods Research (MMR) study was grounded in a pragmatist paradigm and implemented an exploratory sequential design involving two components: qualitative and survey research. The study was conducted in the West Midlands. The aim of the study was to explore employees’ experiences of CMSDs in relation to their employment, their perspectives on managing these conditions in the workplace, the strategies used to facilitate and maintain their roles and responsibilities, and to identify what services are offered to them.

Methods

In the first qualitative phase, 15 semi-structured interviews were conducted to gather in-depth information from employees with a CMSD who were over the age of 50. This qualitative data informed the development of an online questionnaire in the second descriptive cross-sectional survey phase. The questionnaire was administered to older employees (N=107) with a CMSD working in a diversity of work environments.

Results

The qualitative and survey research findings were integrated using a rigorous approach and a joint display to illustrate the integrative process. The integrated findings illustrated the uncertainty that older employees with CMSDs face and highlighted the role of social support in encouraging disclosure and supporting the management of CMSDs. These findings also indicated that the phenomena of presenteeism and leaveism are important components to employees’ strategies for managing their CMSDs. Participants expanded on the impact of state pension age changes on retirement and specifically exposed how these changes affected, in particular, women and those with chronic inflammatory conditions. The integrated findings illustrated the role and responsibilities of employers and managers in supporting the older employees with CMSDs and emphasised how self-management and professional health services are crucial in sustaining employability. The implications for practice, policy and research were discussed and a number of recommendations, derived from the findings, were made (a) for employers and managers to better support the ageing workforce with CMSDs, (b) for employees to highlight workplace strategy options and enhance their confidence in managing a CMSD at work, and (c) the need for further research that supports the occupational health agenda as it relates to the ageing workforce was identified. Finally, two draft leaflets were produced by which the recommendations and strategies could be disseminated to employers and managers and employees with CMSDs.

Conclusions

This study used a MMR approach to explore the complex issues of sustaining employability for older employees with a CMSD taking into consideration the changes in the socio-political environment. The findings suggest that individualised support could best assist older employees to remain employable especially those whose retirement age has been raised. Current challenges call for employers to identify effective ways to support the ageing workforce and invest in training opportunities for managers and collaborative opportunities with HCPs and other stakeholders. A flexible, empathetic, and resourceful work environment is optimal in supporting sustained employability for an ageing workforce.

PLEASE NOTE THIS THESIS IS UNDER EMBARGO UNTIL 27/02/2024
Date of AwardFeb 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorAndrew King (Supervisor) & Andy Turner (Supervisor)

Cite this

'