Health & Wellness

How to Help Employees with Arthritis

By Preet Pall on July, 28 2021
4 minute read

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Every job comes with physical demands. Whether it’s the hard toil of manual labor or the aches and pains that develop working at a desk, employees need a comfortable pain-free way to work. For many employees, the top physical challenge they must overcome is arthritis.

About 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from some form of arthritis, and the number is expected to rise to 1 in 4 people by 2040.

This disease becomes more common with age, but can occur at any stage of an employee's life. The pain can be debilitating and, in some cases, require individuals to go on disability leave. However, before you can start helping your employees, you need to understand as an employer, the effects untreated arthritis can have on workplaces and employees.


Types of Arthritis

There are 2 main types of Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid arthritis

  • Osteoarthritis is the most common. Damage is caused to your joints from ‘wear and tear’ when they are overused. It is usually a gradual process over months or years. The joint cartilage breaks down eventually causing bone to rub on bone resulting in inflammation. Joints that bear weight like the spine, hips and knees are most commonly affected. 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune disease where the body attacks healthy joint tissue leading to inflammation, joint damage and joint deformities. Morning stiffness and joint pain are commonly experienced, typically in the same joint on both sides of your body. 


Effects of Arthritis in the Workplace

Arthritis can seriously impact your workplace. Having employee supports in place, designed to help treat and manage symptoms, helps make employees lives (and their jobs) a little bit easier, which will lead to higher productivity and fewer job disruptions for your organization

As an employer, failing to support an employee suffering from arthritis risks the following: 

  • Decrease in employee productivity 
  • Absenteeism and presenteeism
  • Employee grievances / human rights complaints
  • Increased Health Benefits Plan Costs

(Refer to previous blog: What Are the Costs of Chronic Disease in the Workplace?)


How to Manage Arthritis at Work 

Managing arthritis on a working, day-to-day basis poses unique challenges. Employees quickly realize that previously simple tasks now require special accommodations before they can be completed. As an employer, your job is to provide employees with the tools they need to be successful, despite their condition. 

(See previous blog: 4 Strategies to Manage Chronic Disease in the Workplace)

Encourage Open Communication 

Encourage employees who need special accommodations at work to speak privately with a manager. Employers can only help manage what they know about and employees should not feel that they have to suffer in silence. And employees shouldn’t feel as if they have to come to the table with a solution, either. Simply stating their problem is enough. Let them know that from there, the two of you will work together to find solutions.

Living with Arthritis is a challenge. Though nothing can reverse its effects, there are some tips and treatments employees can use to make their pain more manageable. 

Make Accommodations at Work

  • Take more frequent breaks.
  • Avoid repetitive movements. 
  • Relocate their workstation to be closer to the break room, restroom and other areas of the office the employee regularly visits. 
  • Purchase assistive devices such as headsets, speaker phones, lifting aids, grip aids, and standing desks.

The employee's workstation should be designed to meet their individual needs and limitations caused by arthritis. Ergonomic devices, such as orthopedic chairs, foot rests, and ergonomically designed mouse and keyboard, will help your employees work without stressing their joints. 


How employers can help

If you know that one of your employees is struggling with arthritis, understand that they may move at a slower pace than normal  some days or may require more short breaks. Check in with them, ask them how they’re feeling. The simple act of offering a break can go a long way. 

When it comes to the financial component, provide a benefits package that supports the management of this condition. Extended Health benefits will generally cover most arthritis related prescription drugs although it is often worth investigating if coverage is available through provincial healthcare.  Your benefits advisor can provide direction on how employees may apply to the Province for coverage under the public health plan for some of the more expensive medications.  Reimbursement for certain equipment may be available through the medical devices and equipment part of the plan or via a Health Spending Account (HSA). Finally, having a list of support and resources at hand for both employees and management is also helpful. A great place to start is the Arthritis Society website.  

(See previous blog: How to Support Employees with Chronic Illness)


Final Thoughts

Without treatment, arthritis can be a painful, debilitating affliction. Employees with such a diagnosis often do their best to manage the condition, but in order for them to truly thrive, they need support. Aid can come in a variety of ways, from offerening a benefits plan that covers their medication to providing an ergonomic workspace that allows them to minimize their daily pain. It’s important to speak with your employees and cultivate an environment where they feel comfortable talking about their problems and asking for help. 

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