Testing a Model of Stigma Applied to Chronic Illness in the Workplace

Date of Completion

January 2011


Psychology, Industrial|Sociology, Organizational




Chronic illness affects a large and growing number of workers in the United States and around the world. Threat of stigmatization due to chronic illness is a stressor for this worker population. A comprehensive model of stigma and stress developed by Major and O'Brien (2005) was adapted to chronic illness at work and tested using a sample of 332 working adults with chronic illness. Boundary flexibility, supervisor support, previous discrimination, and stigma meta-perceptions related to perceptions of overt and covert stigma threat at work. Overt stigma threat was directly associated with work withdrawal and turnover intentions and covert stigma threat related to anxiety and depression, which related to feelings of strain, job satisfaction, affective commitment, turnover intentions, and work withdrawal. The fit of the model as originally proposed was less than adequate; a series of empirically-based and theoretically supported model revisions produced a good-fitting model. Participants used many strategies to cope with perceived stigma threat; individuals were classified into four coping clusters that included: engagement coping, coping through denial, disengagement coping, and low levels of coping. Differences between clusters in modeled relationships between endogenous variables were examined using multiple groups analysis (with coping clusters as groups). Individuals who reported overall low levels of coping showed nonsignificant relationships between stigma threat and anxiety and depression, and between anxiety and depression and work strain, job satisfaction, work withdrawal, affective commitment and intent to turnover; no other systematic differences between clusters were detected. Organizations should consider working to increase flexibility and educating supervisors on how to manage workers with chronic illness in order to prevent high levels of stigma threat for workers with chronic illness. ^