Does it matter what your reasons are when deciding to disclose (or not disclose) a disability at work? The association of workers’ approach and avoidance goals with perceived positive and negative workplace outcomes

Monique A. M. Gignac, Arif Jetha, Kathleen A. Martin Ginis, Selahadin Ibrahim

Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation 2021

Published: March 2021


Deciding whether to disclose a disability to others at work is complex. Many chronic mental and physical health conditions are associated with episodic disability and include times of relative wellness punctuated by intermittent periods of activity limitations. This research draws on the disclosure processes model to examine approach and avoidance disclosure and non-disclosure goals and their association with perceived positive and negative workplace outcomes. Participants were 896 employed individuals (57.7% women) living with a chronic physical or mental health/cognitive condition. They were recruited from an existing national panel and completed an online, cross-sectional survey. Participants were asked about disclosure
decisions, reasons for disclosure/non-disclosure, demographic, work context and perceived positive and negative disclosure decision outcomes (e.g., support, stress, lost opportunities). About half the sample (51.2%) had disclosed a disability to their supervisor. Decisions included both approach and avoidance goals. Approach goals (e.g., desire support, want to build trust, maintain the status quo at work) were significantly associated with perceived positive work outcomes regardless of whether a participant disclosed or did not disclose a disability at work, while avoidance goals (e.g., concerns about losing one’s job, feeling forced to disclose because others notice a problem) were associated with perceived negative work outcomes. The findings highlight benefits and challenges that workers perceive arise when they choose to disclose or not disclose personal health information. By better understanding disclosure decisions, we can inform organizational health privacy and support gaps to help sustain the employment of people living with disabilities.