Advice on fibromyalgia, a chronic illness primarily affecting women, often presents it as incompatible with work and rarely covers how to remain employed. Yet many women do.
We aimed to understand how these women, their family members, and workmates portrayed employees with fibromyalgia, and how these portrayals helped women retain employment.
We interviewed 22 participants, comprising five triads and three dyads of people who knew each other. Using the methodology of critical discourse analysis, we analysed the interview data within and across the triads/dyads through coding, narrative summaries, and relational mapping.
Participants reported stereotypes that employees with fibromyalgia are lazy, malingering, and less productive than healthy workers. Countering these assumptions, participants portrayed the women as normal, valuable employees who did not ‘give in’ to their illness. The portrayals drew on two discourses, normalcy and mind-controlling-the-body, and a related narrative, overcoming disability. We propose that participants’ portrayals helped women manage their identities in competitive workplaces and thereby remain employed.
Our findings augment the very sparse literature on employment with fibromyalgia. Using a new approach, critical discourse analysis, we expand on known job-retention strategies and add the perspectives of two key stakeholders: family members and workmates.