Purpose: The goal of this qualitative study was to gain insight into how older employees remain productive at work in spite of health problems.
Methods: Twenty-six semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with older employees, 46-63 years of age, who reported a poor health in the Study on Transitions in Employment, Ability, and Motivation. Demographic, health, and work information was gathered, followed by information on adjustments made in response to health problems. Inductive and deductive analyses were done independently by two researchers.
Results: Four pathways through which poor health could influence productivity were identified: (1) poor health did not influence productivity; (2) poor health created a temporary imbalance in demands and external and internal resources after which adjustments were made and productivity was maintained; (3) adjustments were made in response to an imbalance, but productivity remained reduced; and (4) no adjustments were made and productivity was reduced. Whether and which adjustments occurred was influenced by factors in various domains, such as: visibility of the problem (health), autonomy (work-related), support (relational), and the ability to ask for help (personal). Sustainable productivity was influenced by internal factors that enhanced or hindered the creation of a balance, and by whether appropriate adjustments were made.
Conclusions: The influence that health can have on productivity depends on the individuals' unique imbalance and personal disposition. Helpful a priori work place characteristics and personal well-being should be promoted so that a balance between demands and resources can be found in times of poor health.