Work remains meaningful despite time out of the workplace and chronic pain
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PURPOSE: Although work has been found to be meaningful and a source of motivation to return to work in certain disabled populations, it was unclear if this was also true for people experiencing a long period of unemployment and job loss due to a musculoskeletal injury. Therefore, the aim of this phenomenological study was to explore the meaning of work for those with chronic work disability due to a musculoskeletal injury. METHOD: The data from 27 interviews, conducted with 9 participants, was analyzed using the Empirical Phenomenological Psychological method. RESULTS: Work remained central to the lives of the participants and aligned with previous valued work outcomes and goals regardless of the amount of time away from work. These findings point to the importance of recognizing the ongoing centrality of work for those with chronic work disability and the importance of tapping into work values and beliefs to provide workers with the motivation needed to get past physical and systemic barriers to return to work. CONCLUSIONS: This study shows that a shift in focus back to meaning not only has benefits for people with chronic work disability, but for occupational therapists in their ability to make a unique and effective contribution to the field of work disability. Implications for rehabilitation The chronic work disabled population remains one of the most challenging to return to work. Reflection on the meaning of work provides motivation needed for clients to overcome barriers to work including chronic pain. Exploring meaning is not difficult or time consuming in vocational rehabilitation.
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