Open Access Study protocol

Manage at work: a randomized, controlled trial of a self-management group intervention to overcome workplace challenges associated with chronic physical health conditions

William S Shaw12*, Elyssa Besen1, Glenn Pransky12, Cécile RL Boot3, Michael K Nicholas4, Robert K McLellan5 and Torill H Tveito67

Author Affiliations

1 Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety, 71 Frankland Rd., Hopkinton, MA 01748, USA

2 University of Massachusetts Medical School, 55 N. Lake Ave., Worcester, MA 01655, USA

3 VU University Medical Center, EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Department of Public and Occupational Health, Van der Boechorststraat 7, 1081 BT Amsterdam, The Netherlands

4 University of Sydney at Royal North Shore Hospital, St. Leonards, NSW 2065, Australia

5 Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, 1 Rope Ferry Drive, Hanover, NH 03755, USA

6 Uni Health, Uni Research, Christiesgate 13, N-5015 Bergen, Norway

7 Clinic Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Vestfold Hospital Trust, Stavern 3290, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:515  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-515

Published: 28 May 2014



The percentage of older and chronically ill workers is increasing rapidly in the US and in many other countries, but few interventions are available to help employees overcome the workplace challenges of chronic pain and other physical health conditions. While most workers are eligible for job accommodation and disability compensation benefits, other workplace strategies might improve individual-level coping and problem solving to prevent work disability. In this study, we hypothesize that an employer-sponsored group intervention program employing self-management principles may improve worker engagement and reduce functional limitation associated with chronic disorders.


In a randomized controlled trial (RCT), workers participating in an employer-sponsored self-management group intervention will be compared with a no-treatment (wait list) control condition. Volunteer employees (n = 300) will be recruited from five participating employers and randomly assigned to intervention or control. Participants in the intervention arm will attend facilitated group workshop sessions at work (10 hours total) to explore methods for improving comfort, adjusting work habits, communicating needs effectively, applying systematic problem solving, and dealing with negative thoughts and emotions about work. Work engagement and work limitation are the principal outcomes. Secondary outcomes include fatigue, job satisfaction, self-efficacy, turnover intention, sickness absence, and health care utilization. Measurements will be taken at baseline, 6-, and 12-month follow-up. A process evaluation will be performed alongside the randomized trial.


This study will be most relevant for organizations and occupational settings where some degree of job flexibility, leeway, and decision-making autonomy can be afforded to affected workers. The study design will provide initial assessment of a novel workplace approach and to understand factors affecting its feasibility and effectiveness.

Trial registration NCT01978392 (Issued November 6, 2013)

Chronic health conditions; Workplace; Coping; Pain management; RCT; Presenteeism