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The meaning of employee health in the business context : a narrative inquiry with human resources professionals Thomas, Kimberly Anne

Abstract

Illness arising out of the course of employment is the cause of a great deal of human suffering world wide. It represents significant costs for individuals, organizations and society, yet is not the primary focus of business. Human resource professionals are traditionally charged with the responsibility of employee health risk management, however little is known about the meanings human resource professionals ascribe to employee health in the business context. In this qualitative study, narrative inquiry was used to explore the meaning of employee health among human resource professionals in the business context. Nine human resources professionals, from a range of industry sectors, participated in in-depth interviews for this research. Data analysis of the interviews involved explorations of content themes and the structure of the human resource professionals' stories. The study findings provide important insight into human resource professionals' struggles with ensuring employee access to health services, accessing medical information and managing issues related to employee stress. Two narratives emerged from this study: "Providing a Toolbox of Supports" and "Fulfilling the Prophesy". In the first narrative, human resource professionals detailed their efforts to draw from their "toolbox" to support employees who were perceived as good workers, trustworthy and well-liked in the organization. In the second narrative, the participants described employees who had performance problems, were not trustworthy and were not forthcoming with information related to their illness. The sub-narrative of "Responsibility" recurred throughout the stories; participants felt responsibility to help their employees while at the same time protecting the employer's bottom-line. The findings of the study have implications for education, practice and research in both the health and business sectors, as well as for employees. Understanding the meanings human resource professionals give to employee health problems makes clear the need for collaboration between health and business in caring for patients who are also workers.

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