Exploring chronic illness and leadership

Researchers at the University of Melbourne are looking for participants for a new study into chronic illness in leadership.

Dr Max Theilacker and PhD student Peter Ghin, in the Department of Management and Marketing, want to better understand the extent to which perceived stigma impacts on leaders’ disclosing chronic illnesses in the workplace.

An ageing population, medical advances, as well as social and environmental changes have all contributed to an increase in the number of working-age people living with a chronic illness in Australia.

These illnesses include musculoskeletal disorders, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, endometriosis, stress disorders, depression and anxiety.

Conservative estimates based on allocated health care expenditure show that chronic illnesses cost the Australian economy $27 billion a year. The impact on people’s personal lives, including their ability to do their jobs and carry out other roles in society, is far more difficult to estimate.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing, 25 per cent of professionals and 22 per cent of managers in Australia are managing at least one chronic illness. However, research on the topic so far has tended to look at lower-level employees, not those in leadership roles.

Frustrated woman at laptop
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Existing research shows that people in high status positions are afraid that disclosing their illness could lead to perceptions of weakness and incompetence, and have negative career impacts.

To unravel these important issues, Dr Theilacker and Mr Ghin are exploring how factors such as organisational support, relationships with supervisors, and perceptions of leadership influence senior leaders’ stigmatisation and their disclosure behaviours.

The researchers hope this will mark the beginning of a much broader research agenda into this important subject.

To take part in the study, people need to have been diagnosed with a chronic illness by a medical professional and be working in a senior leadership capacity in Australia.

Participants will be asked to complete an anonymous online survey with a set of questions on their illness and workplace behaviours. All information given will be strictly confidential.

If you are interested in participating in taking part please go to the survey here.

For more information please email maxnt@unimelb.edu.au or peter.ghin@unimelb.edu.au.

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