The Arthritis Society has rolled out a suite of resources to help employers and employees better understand the disease and how best to support those individuals.
Arthritis is not just an old person’s disease. It affects men and women in their prime working years, and employers may not even be aware. It affects six million Canadians, and that number is projected to increase to 9 million by 2040, making it the most common chronic disease in the country. Even though the disease is so common, there is no cure.
Challenges brought out by this disease include:
Arthritis is unpredictable. People may not know when a flareup is about the occur. Symptoms may come on suddenly.
Arthritis impacts people differently. Some experience pain, changes to their physical abilities, or fatigue.
Chronic disease management means dealing with disability, reduced productivity, or absenteeism
Increased and unsustainable benefits costs to both employer and public drug plans
Arthritis is one of the leading causes of workplace disability and causes limitations in the workplace.
What is Arthritis?
There are two main types of this disease: the most common is osteoarthritis, where cartilage at the end of joints starts to wear down; and the more serious inflammatory arthritis, which is an auto-immune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the joints. There are over 100 different types of the disease.
Gender, obesity, and previous injuries can all increase a person’s chances of being diagnosed with arthritis.
Treatment options depend on the type of diagnosis and include weight management, physical therapy, and medications. The medications used to treat inflammatory arthritis can be extremely costly, so educating plan members so they seek advice, a diagnosis, and treatment early to improve the chances the patient won't have to go on a high cost biologic drug.
What Can Employers Do?
Employers can play an important role in helping their teams in building awareness around arthritis and managing the chronic condition.
Work with employees to determine what workplace modifications might be needed. This can mean structuring the workplace so that employees have the flexibility to be able to be productive and thrive in ways that don’t compound the disease.
Where possible, consider offering employees more flexible work arrangements and more freedom or autonomy and how they do their jobs and organize their schedule.
Some employers consider split shifts, shorter consecutive hours at work and allowing employees an opportunity for rest. This can help employees finish later what might become too painful to complete productively.
Consider ergonomic assessments. Sometimes these can be accessed through the Employee and Family Assistance Program.
Check out the Arthritis Society's resource kits for employers and employees: