Arthritis and Employment: Fit for Work

September is Arthritis Awareness Month in Canada. As part of this, I'm doing a series of posts about initiatives by different organizations. The common theme of these will be dealing with the topic of working when you live with arthritis. 

Living with arthritis — whether osteo or inflammatory — can be an all-consuming situation. Everything you do is marked by your disease and sometimes, it can give you a bit of blinders. You spend so much time focusing on making your life work that it can be hard to think in broad strokes. Here are some of those larger facts:

Over 4.6 million Canadians live with arthritis.
The annual economic cost of arthritis in Canada is $33 billion.
In a recent study, fully one third of respondents indicated they stop working because of arthritis.

Makes it very real, doesn't it? The study I mentioned above was commissioned by The Arthritis Society and further analyzed by the Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit (ACREU), which found the following:
  • Two thirds of participants reported going to work even when they felt unwell because of their arthritis
  • 41% reported difficultly managing their symptoms.
  • 41% said arthritis made it difficult to carry out their work responsibilities
  • Over one third of participants reported that arthritis made it difficult to travel to and from work
  • Over one third noted that their condition had affected their career development.[1]
Make you feel less alone, doesn't it? And it also makes you realize the magnitude of the impact arthritis have on the lives of those who live with it.

Solving these pervasive and costly — both financially, societally and individually — problems requires several different tactics. One is to teach people more about self-management in the context of employment, such as the program currently being studied by The Arthritis Research Centre of Canada, which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Helping people to be more empowered and better managers of their disease is a crucial element in decreasing the impact of arthritis, unemployment.

However, you can teach people as much as you want about managing their disease, and being proactive and empowered at work, but if employers aren't aware of the loss of potential and good employees, what can be done to prevent it or don't have the willingness to do what's required, you're not going to get anywhere.

Enter an exciting initiative by The Arthritis Society. After commissioning the study mentioned earlier in this post that demonstrated the impact of arthritis on work from an individual point of view, they took the next logical and necessary step: they did something about it.

The first part of doing something was a booklet called ROI One Life: Arthritis. This article discusses the economic impact of arthritis in the workplace, making the cost of this disease is very real to employers. It goes even further by discussing the how critically important it is for Canadian organizations to take action and address the disease. This will appear in the latest issue of Benefits Canada and Avantages, covering both official languages.

And then The Arthritis Society did something else that's really interesting. On October 8, they are hosting an employer roundtable discussion about arthritis in the workplace "with the objective of moving from awareness of the disease to the development of a framework of guidelines and recommendations for arthritis friendly organisations."[2] 

This is an incredibly welcome development. Starting the dialogue with employers is essential and the fact that they're going to actually look at developing guidelines and recommendations? So cool it makes me shiver. This has the potential for creating real and lasting change and I can't wait to see what happens! 

You can read the ACREU study analysis and The ROI of One Life: Arthritis article by following the links in The Arthritis Society press release.  

There's one week left to help me raise $500 for Show Us Your Hands! Please consider buying a copy of the e-book or paperback edition of Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain by September 30, 2013. During this period, 50% of the royalties will be donated to Show Us YourHands!

[1] The Arthritis Society, "high impact of arthritis in the workplace draws focus during arthritis awareness month." Toronto, September 3, 2013 
[2] Ibid


I had not known that September was Arthritis Awareness Month in Canada. This year I had helped put together an infographic for Arthritis Awareness Month, and I really wanted to share it with you. It has sections which focus on all the RA, OA, plus some overview and some information on juvenile arthritis. Please let me know what you think!

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