Versus Arthritis Centre for Sport, Exercise and Osteoarthritis
University of Nottingham

Workplace adjustments 'can help rheumatoid arthritis patients return to work'

Published byArthritis Research UK | 14 December 2016

Workplaces could be doing more to adjust their practices and provide greater flexibility in order to help rheumatoid arthritis patients return to work.

This is according to a new study from Lancaster University and the Arthritis Research UK-MRC Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work, which aimed to offer a different viewpoint on sickness presenteeism, or the practice of continuing to work despite illness.

A strong desire to work despite rheumatoid arthritis

Generally speaking, sickness presenteeism is seen as having negative consequences for businesses and individuals alike, yet equally there is a perception that returning to work can be a positive step for people with poor health.

For this study, in-depth interviews were conducted with 11 men and women with rheumatoid arthritis, with follow-ups conducted six months later. According to results published in the medical journal Disability and Rehabilitation, the disease often affected participants' ability to work, yet their motivation to continue working remained high.

Moreover, the implementation of workplace adjustments was shown to enable participants to stay in their jobs and restore their work capacity, which can be a positive move for their overall recovery.

Voluntary vs involuntary presenteeism

However, the report also underlined the importance of differentiating voluntary presenteeism - wherein people with ill health want to continue to work - with involuntary presenteeism, or the situation that arises when people feel pressured to work through an illness.

It was observed that managers' misinterpretation of organisational sickness absence policies can result in a lack of flexibility to accommodate the needs of workers with rheumatoid arthritis, which can lead to involuntary presenteeism or a delayed return to work.

The study concluded: "Workplace adjustments can facilitate voluntary sickness presenteeism. To reduce work disability and sickness absence, organisational policies should be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the needs of workers with fluctuating conditions."

Arthritis Research UK's view

Dr Natalie Carter, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research UK, commented: "Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and continually fluctuating condition that affects more than 460,0000 people within the UK. The fluctuating nature of the condition not only makes workplace tasks like typing and writing difficult, but can also make planning ahead troublesome.

"As a charity, we know that people with arthritis want to work and that with reasonable adjustments many people can continue or return to work. We've recently just launched our Work Matters to Me campaign, which is calling on the government to support people with arthritis."

Arthritis Research UK is calling for people with arthritis to sign our open letter asking the government to deliver better employment support for people with arthritis who want the opportunity to work, and to add their own working experiences to the consultation response. Visit to find out more.

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Posted on Friday 16th December 2016