Asking for work adjustments or initiating behavioral changes – what makes a “problematic co-worker” score Brownie points? : An experimental study on the reactions towards colleagues with a personality disorder

People with mental disorders, especially personality disorders, often face low acceptance at work. This is particularly problematic when returning to work after sick-leave, because it impedes reintegration into the former workplace. This study explores colleagues’ reactions towards a problematic worker dependent on the returning person’s reintegration strategy: The returning person undertaking changes in their behaviour is compared with the person requesting adjustments of the workplace. In an experimental study 188 employed persons read one of four vignettes that described a return-to-work-situation of a problematic co-worker. Across all vignettes the co-worker was depicted as having previously caused problems in the work team. In the first vignette the co-worker asked for workplace-adjustments when she returned to work; in the second, she attempted to change her behaviour in order to cause less problems; the third vignette combined both workplace-adjustments and behavioural changes; and the fourth (control) vignette did not include any change. Study participants were asked for their reactions towards the problematic co-worker. Vignettes that included a behavioural change evoked more positive reactions towards the co-worker than vignettes without any behavioural change. Asking for workplace-adjustments alone did not yield more positive reactions compared to not initiating any change. When preparing employees with interactional problems for their return to work, it is not effective to only instruct them on their statutory entitlement for workplace-adjustments. Instead, it is advisable to encourage them to proactively strive for behaviour changes.


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License Holder: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Psychology, Health & Medicine on 15. November 2015, available online:

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