Tension at the borders: perceptions of role overload, conflict, strain and facilitation in work, family and health roles among employed individuals with arthritis

Monique A. Gignac, Catherine L. Backman, Simone Kaptein, Diane Lacaille, Dorcas E. Beaton, Catherine Hofstetter, Elizabeth M. Badley

Rheumatology (Oxf.) 2012; 51(2): 324–332


Published: February 2012


Objective. To examine inter-relationships among arthritis (A), work (W) and personal life (P) roles and their reciprocal influences, especially experiences of role balance/imbalance among individuals with inflammatory arthritis (IA) and OA.

Methods. Eight focus groups were conducted with 24 women and 16 men (aged 2972 years). A purposive sample was recruited from community advertising. Eligibility included current employment or having been employed within the previous year. Participants were asked about ways arthritis, work and personal life roles intersected and their impact. A standardized questionnaire collected demographic, symptom and employment data for descriptive purposes.

Results. Participants noted that having arthritis affected their identity and intersected with work and personal roles, creating role overload, role conflict, role strain and role facilitation. Role overload highlighted that arthritis both affected and was impacted by work and personal life (A→W; A→P; W→A; P→A). Role conflict focused on A→W and A→P difficulties, whereas role facilitation emphasized the positive impact of work and personal life roles on arthritis (W→A; P→A). Role strain was pervasive and arose from numerous sources. Personal strategies (e.g. positive framing) and contextual factors (e.g. support) were important in contributing to or ameliorating role balance/imbalance.

Conclusions. By comprehensively examining multiple types of role balance/imbalance and the context within which it occurs, this study identifies gaps in patient-oriented measurement of the impact of arthritis and areas of need in the development of arthritis intervention.