Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 91–110

Career Barriers Experienced by People with Chronic Illness: A U.S. Study


DOI: 10.1007/s10672-011-9177-z

Cite this article as:
Beatty, J.E. Employ Respons Rights J (2012) 24: 91. doi:10.1007/s10672-011-9177-z


This paper examines the career barriers and attitudes of people working in the U.S. with chronic illness. Chronic illness is distinct from disability, with often variable symptoms; symptoms may also be invisible or ambiguous. Social cognitive career theory and illness studies provide the theoretical framing for the specific career barriers of this population. Data comes from interviews with 23 working individuals with chronic illness. The results show that career barriers come from the illness itself (its symptoms and uncertainty), other’s reactions to illness, and institutional rules. Misconceptions about illness, pity, and perceptions that people with illness either can’t handle challenging work or that they will soon exit the workforce due to their illness were frequently mentioned. Peoples’ career paths are influenced in characteristic ways, with patterns of plateauing, redirecting, retreating, and self-employment. They also report a reprioritization of career and personal goals. The findings aim to distinguish the chronic illness experience and its career barriers to help people with illness and their employers develop effective approaches and strategies for working with illness.

Key words

Career barriersChronic illnessDisability

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Management Studies DepartmentUniversity of Michigan–DearbornDearbornUSA