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Working it Out: Arthritis & Accommodations

By Charlotte Ryder-Burbidge, Arthritis Patient Advisory Board Member
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, employees across different industries who were able to work from home started to do so. Many continue to work remotely.

For people living and working with arthritis, this shift has provided an opportunity to reflect on an important question: How would working with arthritis be different if I didn’t need to regularly be at my workplace?

Accommodating people with arthritis in the workforce is not only the right thing to do, it also makes good economic sense. Lost productivity due to osteoarthritis alone is expected to cost the Canadian economy $17.5 billion per year by 2031. Add in rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, ankylosing spondylitis and other types of arthritis, and it becomes painstakingly clear that providing work accommodations to people with arthritis is fundamental to the success of Canadian businesses.

Below, we discuss some of the biggest considerations as to why remote work can be advantageous (and not) for people with arthritis.

Benefits of Working from Home

Flexibility

Possibly the greatest advantage that working from home can offer for people with arthritis is flexible hours. An unrestrictive work schedule can help people with arthritis work at times in the day when they feel their best mentally and physically. For some, this schedule may be starting work later in the day when morning stiffness has subsided. Other people may be more comfortable working for longer hours, but with more significant breaks.

The ability to incorporate frequent breaks into the day is another advantage of working from home. Break time could be filled with movement, such as light stretching or going for a walk, or taking time to prepare a healthy snack or meal.

No Commute

Another important advantage of working from home is not having to commute to work. In pre-pandemic times, there were approximately 16 million Canadians who commuted to work via car or public transit, and they spent an average of 52 minutes per day doing so. For a typical work schedule, this amounts to nearly five hours of lost personal time per week that could be better spent doing activities that help reduce pain and fatigue, like exercise, self-care, or sleep.

Commuting to work via public transit can also be challenging for people with arthritis, who may have difficulty walking to and from transit stops, standing and maneuvering on public transit, or carrying heavy bags.

Challenges of Working from Home

Recreating an office environment at home can be tricky. Some people may be missing a particular piece of office furniture, such as a sit-to-stand desk, which helps prevent pain and stiffness associated with long days at the computer.

Although some workplaces offer benefits to help with the purchase of new office furniture or allow them to take office furniture home, it is not always possible to recreate the ergonomically friendly conditions available at the office.

The company office may also outcompete a work-from-home setup in terms of space and quiet. Not everyone has a spare room where they can set up their office and close the door or the luxury of knowing that they won’t be continuously interrupted by someone or something at home. Environments that are not conducive to peace and productivity at work can lead to unnecessary stress and consequently pain for people with arthritis.

Working Together to Create Comfortable Workspaces

There are benefits and drawbacks to all types of working arrangements. What is most important is that employers create inclusive environments that promote work-related wellness and in which employees with arthritis feel supported to come forward and ask for the accommodations they need.

After nearly two years of COVID-19, there is no shortage of examples illustrating how alternate work arrangements can be successfully used to nurture happy and productive employees. These flexible work arrangements may be exactly what some people with arthritis need to help reach their personal and professional goals.

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