Purpose: Little is known about employment experience after spinal cord injury (SCI) because most research to date concentrates on employment predictors. We explored the experiences of people with SCI, and vocational rehabilitation (VR) professionals working for a VR programme, in pursuing a return to employment in New Zealand (NZ) post-SCI.
Methods: Twelve people with SCI (four employed, three job-seeking, five unemployed) and six VR professionals were interviewed, and the transcripts subjected to an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis.
Results: The core meaning of employment post-SCI was to live a normal life. Work advantages were social connectedness, a sense of self-worth, earning a living, and being occupied. Employment was the zenith of rehabilitation but not the first priority post-SCI. Employment barriers and facilitators were congruent with those found in similar studies. The role of VR was to sow the seeds of return to employment and to partner with the SCI client.
Conclusions: For persons employed pre-SCI, we posit that employment identity modification is part of the return to employment process, alongside a supportive social context and networks, and adapted work environments. VR professionals may facilitate return to employment through understanding and fostering the process of employment identity modification and supporting clients to find work opportunities congruent with employment identity.