Illness narratives and chronic patients’ sustainable employability: The impact of positive work stories

Inge Brokerhof*, J.F. Ybema, Matthijs Bal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The number of workers with a chronic disease is steadily growing in industrialized countries. To cope with and to give meaning to their illness, patients construct illness narratives, which are widely shared across patient societies, personal networks and the media. This study investigates the influence of these shared illness narratives on patient’s working lives, by examining the impact of reading a positive work story versus negative work story on patients’ sustainable employability. We expected that this relationship would be mediated by positive emotions and the extent to which the story enhanced awareness of desires future selves, and moderated by identification with story character. An online field experiment with 166 people with Inflammatory Bowel Disease in The Netherlands showed that while reading a positive story of a patient with the same condition significantly increased positive emotions, these emotions did not influence sustainable employability. However, reading a positive story was related to higher sustainable employability when patients became more aware of their desired possible future work selves. Finally, identification with the story character moderated the impact of story type on sustainable employability. This study showed that personal engagement with a positive work story of a fellow patient is related to higher sustainable employability. Findings can be helpful for health professionals to empower employees with a chronic disease.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0228581
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2020


  • Mixed-methods
  • emotions
  • experiment
  • identification
  • illness narratives
  • narrative impact
  • narratives
  • possible future work selves
  • psychology
  • sustainable employability


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