Full disclosure: An examination of the work experiences and disclosure motives of employees with depression

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Weaver, Kayla B
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 30, 2017
Committee Members:
  • Kisha Shannon Jones, Dissertation Advisor
  • Kisha Shannon Jones, Committee Chair
  • Samuel Todd Hunter, Committee Member
  • Alicia Ann Grandey, Committee Member
  • Stanley Morris Gully, Outside Member
  • depression
  • employees with mental illness
  • identity management
  • stigma
  • disclosure
According to the World Health Organization, depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide. Within the U.S., depression the rate of depression is on the rise, affecting more than 16 million adults each year (National Institute of Mental Health, 2016), many of whom are actively involved in the workforce. Employees who have depression may experience limitations at work as a result of their disorder, which in turn can affect organizational effectiveness in terms of increased rates of absenteeism and presenteeism (Sanderson & Andrews, 2006). Recent estimates posit that employees with depression create an economic burden for employees to the tune of billions of dollars each year. Despite mounting evidence that depression reflects a serious concern for both employers and employees, organizational scholars have thus far paid inadequate attention to the study of employees with depression. That is, there exist very few empirical studies in the industrial and organizational (I/O) psychology or management fields that have focused exclusively on employees with depression. If meaningful progress is to be made in reducing the individual and economic workplace-related costs of depression, increased scholarly attention to this group of employees is critically needed. This dissertation aims to lay a foundation for the study of employees with depression, thereby drawing attention to this population of workers that has traditionally been excluded from the organizational literature. Utilizing a mixed method design, this dissertation examined the work experiences of employees with depression as a means to better understand how having depression affected their work-related behaviors. The first study of this dissertation explored the extent to which depression was integrated into individuals' personal identities at work, the strategies by which this identity was managed in the workplace, as well as the motives for why certain strategies are enacted by individuals with depression. To address these research objectives, a qualitative methodology involving in-depth interviews with employees with depression was applied. Both data collection and analysis were guided by a grounded theory approach which allowed for in-depth understanding of the "lived experiences" of those who suffer from depression. The results of the first study extended theoretical conceptualizations of identity management processes and strategies related to concealable identities. From the data analysis process, three distinct disclosure decisions emerged: non-disclosure, partial disclosure, and full disclosure. Within each disclosure decision, specific strategies through which individuals managed their depression at work were identified. In addition to disclosure decisions, the results demonstrated that motives for disclosure or concealment could be categorized as either approach- or avoid-focused depending on the outcomes on which participants concentrated. Importantly, approach and avoid motives were employed across disclosure decisions, such that individuals, at times, concealed for positive reasons and disclosed for negative reason. These results challenge existing assumptions that disclosure is always enacted for positive reasons or is beneficial to all individuals. The second study of this dissertation built upon the findings from Study 1 and drew upon the theory of approach-avoidance motivation (Elliott, 1999) to quantitatively test how employees' motives for managing their identities at work influencde work-related behaviors (i.e., presenteeism, engagement). Further, Study 2 tested the extent to which organizational factors shaped employees' identity management motives, thereby implicating organizations as influential in the formation of employees' identity management motives and subsequent behaviors. The results demonstrated that for individuals who disclosed or concealed, approach motives were related to work engagement, while for those who disclosed, avoid motives predicted presenteeism. Such findings help to support the notion that motives for disclosure and non-disclosure may be instrumental in shaping employees' outcomes (as compared to only considering the actual disclosure decision). Even more, the results from Study 2 showed that organizational factors were instrumental in shaping whether or not individuals employed approach or avoid-based motives for disclosure and non-disclosure. The organizational environment may, therefore, influence employees' beliefs about gains and losses associated with disclosure decisions, and is important in helping employees with depression to positively manage their identities at work. Together, Study 1 and Study 2 increased our understanding of employees' disclosure decisions, strategies by which those decisions are enacted, and motives for either disclosing or not disclosing one's depression at work. Both theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed in detail.