'You want to show you're a valuable employee': A critical discourse analysis of multi-perspective portrayals of employed women with fibromyalgia

Chronic Illn. 2018 Jun;14(2):135-153. doi: 10.1177/1742395317714034. Epub 2017 Jun 29.


Background 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. Objectives We aimed to understand how these women, their family members, and workmates portrayed employees with fibromyalgia, and how these portrayals helped women retain employment. Methods 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. Results 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. Discussion 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.

Keywords: Critical discourse analysis; chronic illness; employment; fibromyalgia; identity management.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Employment / psychology*
  • Female
  • Fibromyalgia / psychology*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / psychology*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Stereotyping
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Workplace / psychology*