Christian, Eisenkraft, & Kapadia (2015). Dynamic Associations among Somatic Complaints, Human Energy, and Discretionary Behaviors Experiences with Pain Fluctuations at Work

Michael S. Christian – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Noah Eisenkraft – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chaitali Kapadia – University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Ashley Hardin – University of Michigan
Chen Zhang – University of Michigan

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Question 1. What inspired you to research this question? How did you become interested in the experience of physical pain at work? What motivated you to take this particularly interesting approach to look at this phenomenon within- rather than between-subjects?

We all know people who’ve struggled to work with chronic health conditions. But when we looked at the literature, we felt like the extant theories didn’t do a great job describing what the people we knew were dealing with. The existing theories tended to focus on the differences between people who were “healthy” and people who were “working sick.” In our experience, however, people with chronic health conditions had good days and bad days. We felt like a within-subjects theory would best describe how people with chronic health conditions lived and worked.

Question 2. For organizational behavior studies, it is less common for scholars to use archival data sets. For Study 2, how did you learn about this archival data set? It seems particularly fitting. Were there challenges in getting access to or using the data to match your theory?

We love using archival data and hope that our study inspires other organizational behavior scholars to do the same. That said, we certainly were lucky with Study 2. We were already familiar with the 500 Family Studies data (from an unrelated project) and knew that its measures matched up with the variables we were studying. The only big challenge that we faced with these data was making sure that the single-item questions measured the constructs that we thought they did.

Question 3. What was the biggest change to your paper in the review process? What were some of the challenges in the review process with bringing ideas and findings from the biological and biobehavioral literatures into an organizational studies paper?

The reviewers helped us tremendously with our theoretical framework. The original draft of the paper was less focused on the energy framework and didn’t do as good a job discussing the boundary conditions of the hypothesized effects. Thankfully, the reviewers were able to point out where the theory was muddled and pushed us to tighten our arguments. None of the reviewers had significant concerns about integrating findings from the biological and biobehavioral literatures into our paper.

Question 4. In regards to the habituation of pain over time, we have two questions. A) How might you respond to those managers who, after reading your article, conclude that they probably do not need to do anything about workers’ physical pain given that the negative effects of pain will decline once the workers get used to it? B) In reading this paper through a lens of compassion, we wonder, did you observe how managerial responses make a difference? Or do you have a hypothesis of how, in addition to your hypothesized mechanisms, managerial responses over time may contribute to your findings? For instance, potentially the longer individuals have pain, the more likely their managers will be to respond to their pain.

A. The negative effects of pain decrease over time, but they decrease pretty slowly. It may take decades for somebody to learn how to perform as well when they’re in pain than when they’re pain free. Managers that hope these issues will just “go away” are ignoring a potentially important source of variation in people’s employees.

B. We would have loved to study how managers respond over time. Like you, we suspect that social support from managers and co-workers may mitigate some of the negative effects of pain. Exactly how this occurs and in what situations, however, will hopefully be the topic of future research efforts.

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