essex business school

Anne's story

My name is Anne Steinhoff and I am a PhD student in accounting. I’m researching the effects of performance measures on employees with chronic illness in the workplace. I focus on the experiences of employees living and working with the autoimmune disorder coeliac disease.

What made you decide to study for a PhD?

I came to the UK when I was 20 years old. I wanted to move away from Germany and my family discouraged travel or ‘just getting a job’ so I did a foundation degree course. I went on to study and work at a number of universities around the UK.

During this time I was struggling with a very specific kind of coeliac disease, which not only posed dietary challenges but physical and mental challenges too. I was admitted to hospital numerous times and I saw many different doctors over a period of 10 years. 

I am a very disciplined person but my coeliac disease challenged everything I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. As a result I always felt like I was struggling to keep up and even more so when I started in the workplace.

I started talking to others about their experiences suffering with an illness in the workplace and it is then that I realised that the problem wasn’t necessarily with me or them, it was with the system. Once I accepted this everything became so much easier and this is when I came up with my PhD topic. 

Why did you choose to study at Essex?

At Essex you are encouraged to think outside the box and do things unconventionally. This gave me a great opportunity to bring together two aspects of critical study that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else.

The Essex Business School Accounting Group has quite a critical focus and the Centre for Ideology and Discourse Analysis, in the Department of Government, they do very critical work as well. I have two supervisors who helped me to change the way I thought about my topic and explore the topic on my own terms, rather than trying to make it their topic. That’s the reason I am where I am today.

Can you tell me about your thesis? 

I’m researching the effect of management accounting measures on employees with chronic illnesses but with a focus particularly on coeliac disease. I’m looking into how we limit the way people can work if they have an illness or physical issue. 

For example, imagine you have to be at work from 9am – 5pm. I want to challenge the difference in perceived productivity for someone who gets up three hours early to take medicine to make their way to work, or who is in pain and therefore they don’t meet the 9am start time, versus the person who rolls out of bed 15 minutes before getting to work and does.

I argue that maybe a person could be more productive, or would even work better, if these management accounting measures weren’t so specific for a person who is chronically ill.

In this way, I want to challenge the abstract way we think about accounting and how it affects us.

Who or what inspires you?

I don't have a general person but an attribute, which a lot of people that I have crossed paths with since my first degree have. It's about using research as an activist to overcome problems, and recognising that we know we cannot change the world but we can always try to make it better and we might also inspire others.

If you had to have a motto to live by, what would it be?

Oscar Wilde says: ‘Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.’

Sometimes we see someone and we want to be like them, or we question why we can’t be like them but it is important to remember to be yourself and follow your own path.