Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation

, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 115–124 | Cite as

How do Older Employees with Health Problems Remain Productive at Work?: A Qualitative Study

  • Fenna Leijten
  • Swenneke van den Heuvel
  • Goedele Geuskens
  • Jan Fekke Ybema
  • Astrid de Wind
  • Alex Burdorf
  • Suzan Robroek


Purpose The goal of this qualitative study was to gain insight into how older employees remain productive at work in spite of health problems. Methods Twenty-six semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with older employees, 46–63 years of age, who reported a poor health in the Study on Transitions in Employment, Ability, and Motivation. Demographic, health, and work information was gathered, followed by information on adjustments made in response to health problems. Inductive and deductive analyses were done independently by two researchers. Results Four pathways through which poor health could influence productivity were identified: (1) poor health did not influence productivity; (2) poor health created a temporary imbalance in demands and external and internal resources after which adjustments were made and productivity was maintained; (3) adjustments were made in response to an imbalance, but productivity remained reduced; and (4) no adjustments were made and productivity was reduced. Whether and which adjustments occurred was influenced by factors in various domains, such as: visibility of the problem (health), autonomy (work-related), support (relational), and the ability to ask for help (personal). Sustainable productivity was influenced by internal factors that enhanced or hindered the creation of a balance, and by whether appropriate adjustments were made. Conclusions The influence that health can have on productivity depends on the individuals’ unique imbalance and personal disposition. Helpful a priori work place characteristics and personal well-being should be promoted so that a balance between demands and resources can be found in times of poor health.


Productivity Poor health Adjustments Barriers and facilitators Qualitative research 



We thank interns Kerstin Reeuwijk and Hanneke van der Vijfeijke for their contributions in transcribing, analyzing, and discussing findings.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Fenna Leijten
    • 1
    • 2
  • Swenneke van den Heuvel
    • 2
  • Goedele Geuskens
    • 2
  • Jan Fekke Ybema
    • 2
  • Astrid de Wind
    • 3
    • 2
    • 4
  • Alex Burdorf
    • 1
  • Suzan Robroek
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Public Health, Erasmus MCUniversity Medical CenterRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research TNOHoofddorpThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Public and Occupational Health, the EMGO Institute for Health and Care ResearchVU University Medical CenterAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Body@Work, Research Center on Physical Activity, Work and HealthTNO-VU/VUmcAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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