The Arthritis Newsletter

Winter 2014

Balancing Arthritis, Work and Life

By Gerry Sheanh


Although different sources give different numbers, it is estimated that approximately two in ten people with arthritis will be compelled to stop working within five years of diagnosis. Put another way, approximately eight in ten will remain employed, having managed to balance work, life and arthritis. But what are the factors involved in balancing work and life and how does arthritis affect perceptions of such a balance?


In their recent study of the perceived relationships among work, life and arthritis, Arthritis Research Centre of Canada researchers Catherine L. Backman, Diane Lacaille and others examined the relationship of gender and role perceptions to arthritis-related absenteeism, job disruptions, productivity loss, career satisfaction and job stress. The findings were complex and detailed, but here are eight key observations.



  1. Both men and women were more likely to report that working with arthritis provided positive benefits that motivated them to sustain employment. This is somewhat surprising in that most people would expect that the presence of a potentially debilitating disease would be a negative.


  1. The positive effects of working with arthritis included maintaining employment for the obvious, tangible benefits such as salary, medical coverage and extended health plans to cover medications and physical therapy. Intangible benefits, such as a sense of worth, identity, purpose, productivity, social interaction, distraction from health issues and physical activity were also critically important as well. This strongly implies that working helps define who we are, so to maintain productive employment helps us maintain who and what we are.


  1. Fatigue, not pain, is the most prominent limitation among both women and men when attempting to remain productively employed while battling the effects of arthritis. Fatigue makes it difficult to manage inter-role demands. Perhaps this may be because pain is more easily manageable with medication and job modifications, but the main remedy for fatigue is rest or sleep, which aren’t compatible with being at work.


  1. Having children at home leads to perceptions that work and personal demands make it difficult to manage one’s arthritis, and more so for women than for men. This may be related to the sense that, as a general case, women are probably more engaged in childcare than men. Either way, children often require virtually all of one’s energy and attention, which is a huge problem for someone slowed with pain and severely fatigued.


  1. Job control, or the extent to which the employee can control the quantity and quality of job tasks, was important to both men and women. The more the employee could exercise control, the more positive the perception. The lower the level of control over the tasks, the more arthritis was seen as an impediment.


  1. Unpredictable work hours were perceived as a negative for men in terms of the impact that arthritis had on their work, while it was also a negative for women in terms of the impact unpredictable hours had on managing the disease.


  1. For men, having more joints affected by arthritis was associated with positive perceptions of working, possibly due to the relationship between physical activity and the relief of pain and fatigue.


  1. There were no appreciable differences between men’s and women’s perceptions of the effects of arthritis on working, with one exception: males were more likely to view job disruptions as negatively affecting work and personal life than were women.


Overall, achieving balance between work and life is difficult enough for most people, but is exacerbated when arthritis is present. Rather than throw in the towel and succumb to the limitations that arthritis can impose, most men and women work hard to remain productively employed. They do so not only for tangible rewards such as pay and benefits, but to remain productive, functioning members of society.



Reference: Striking a Balance: Work-Health-Personal Life Conflict in Women and Men with Arthritis and its Association with Work

Outcomes. Monique A. M. Gignac, Diane Lacaille, Dorcas E. Beaton, Catherine L. Backman, Xingshan Cao, Elizabeth M. Badley; J Occup Rehabil (2014) 24:573–584 DOI 10.1007/s10926-013-9490-5

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