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Productive sickness: Wellbeing discourse, employee subjectivity and the organisation of ill-health

Wallace, James 2019. Productive sickness: Wellbeing discourse, employee subjectivity and the organisation of ill-health. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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In recent years workplace wellbeing has become an object of concern for governments, charities and professional associations, as well as employers. These concerns have largely been driven by disquiet concerning the health of the workingage population within society, combined with a desire to remedy the economic malady resulting from working days lost due to staff sickness and lack of employee engagement. Consequently, companies have increasingly begun to directly intervene in the health and wellbeing of their staff, by providing resources which ostensibly empower individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices, which, in turn, serve to make employees more productive. This research explores the connection between workplace wellbeing, productivity and employee sickness by examining how employees become subjects of wellbeing discourse. Based upon a multi-site case study of two organisations with established workplace wellbeing programmes, the research draws on semi-structured interviews with both employees and wellbeing programme administrators. In so doing, the research investigates, firstly, how workplace wellbeing discourse constructs ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ employee subject positions and, secondly, how employees constitute their subjectivity in relation to these discursive subject positions. The central contention of this research is that wellbeing discourse is implicated in the organisation of what I am referring to in this thesis as productive sickness, which, ultimately, incites employees to engage in unhealthy working practices in order to be productive. Correlative to this, the thesis argues that productive sickness necessitates that employees engage in self-management of ill-health in order to remain in work, this is referred to as depreciative self-investment. Finally, I argue that, in order to resist the harmful aspects of wellbeing discourse, it is necessary for employees to push back responsibility for health onto their employers. The thesis contributes to critical literature on workplace wellbeing, casting light on the hitherto unexplored connection between wellbeing and workplace sickness. Moreover, it contributes to extant literature on governmentality by showing the deleterious effects of entrepreneurial neoliberal subjectivities.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Business (Including Economics)
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Uncontrolled Keywords: workplace wellbeing, workplace wellness, wellbeing programme, employee subjectivity, organisation studies, critical management studies, Foucault
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 20 November 2019
Date of Acceptance: 31 October 2019
Last Modified: 20 Nov 2019 10:23

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