Arthritis Awareness Month: Supporting workers with arthritis doesn’t take much beyond what some employers already offer

September 21, 2015 (Toronto, Ontario)—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 & Health (IWH), which examines the availability and use of common workplace benefits and accommodations among workers with arthritis. The study finds that many people with arthritis don’t frequently need support, but on occasions when symptoms flare up—which is typical of this episodic condition—having benefits and accommodations available can make a difference.

“Our evidence shows many individuals with arthritis don’t need special accommodations or practices beyond what some employers already offer,” says IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Monique Gignac and lead author of the study in a video released last week to mark Arthritis Awareness Month.

Affecting 4.6 million Canadians 15 years and older, arthritis is the most common chronic condition among women and the third most common among men. Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness and swelling, and are often intermittent. Without workplace supports, a diagnosis of arthritis may result in people leaving their jobs. Four in ten 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 types of workplace supports examined in this study are already available in many workplaces. The study finds that no one benefit or accommodation will meet the needs of all arthritis sufferers. 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); and
  • modified schedules (24.7 per cent)

The study shows that those who are able to take advantage of workplace supports have better work outcomes than those without such supports. 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,” says Gignac.

The study entitled “Availability, need for, and use of work accommodations and benefits: Are they related to employment outcomes in people with arthritis?” is published in Arthritis Care and Research (doi:10.1002/acr.22508). A plain-language summary is available on the IWH website.

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that aims to protect and improve the health of working people. Recognized as one of the top five occupational health and safety research centres in the world, the Institute provides practical and relevant findings on the prevention of work injury and disability to policy-makers, workers, employers, clinicians, and health, safety and disability management professionals.

Media contacts

Cindy Moser 
Communications Manager
Institute for Work & Health
416-927-2027, ext. 2183

Uyen Vu
Communications Associate
Institute for Work & Health