Working with arthritis considerably easier with workplace support: Study

Canadians who have difficulty working because of their arthritis report fewer job disruptions when they use workplace supports. They also report fewer problems with work tasks like concentrating or keeping up with the pace of work, and are less likely to change their work hours when using those supports.
That’s according to a study by the Institute for Work and Health (IWH), which examines the availability and use of common workplace benefits and accommodations among workers with arthritis.

Many people with arthritis don’t frequently need support, said the study, but on occasions when symptoms flare up — which is typical of this episodic condition — having benefits and accommodations available can make a difference.

“Many individuals with arthritis don’t need special accommodations or practices beyond what some employers already offer,” said IWH senior scientist Monique Gignac and lead author of the study.

Without workplace supports, a diagnosis of arthritis may result in people leaving their jobs, said IWH. Four in 10 working Canadians with arthritis say the condition makes it difficult to carry out their work responsibilities. One in three says the condition has affected their career development.

The supports study participants say they need and use are (from most to least):

• extended health benefits (50.2 per cent)
• special equipment (41.6 per cent)
• flexible hours (41.1 per cent)
• short-term leave (26.0 per cent)
• work-at-home arrangements (25.6 per cent)
• modified schedules (24.7 per cent).

Those workers who are able to take advantage of workplace supports have better work outcomes than those without such supports, said the study. For example, workers with arthritis who need and use work-at-home arrangements report less job disruption, productivity loss and reduced hours compared to those who would have liked these arrangements but couldn’t use them.

And while most people didn’t need short-term leave, those who need and use it report fewer work limitations, job disruptions, productivity losses and reduced hours compared to people who need short-term leave but don’t use it.

“As our workforce ages, employers need to be thinking about these policies and practices, making them more widely available —because it can make a difference,” said Gignac.