How can I get the right support?

Work and your wellbeing

The right kind of work is good for you, and not just financially, it can also provide a sense of purpose, identity, achievement and a supportive social network.

It's much more difficult getting back into work if you're unemployed, and being unemployed has been proven to be bad for people's emotional and physical health and wellbeing.

If you have arthritis or joint pain, your condition may pose some challenges which could make your working life harder. However, work is certainly feasible for most people with arthritis or a related condition.

You have options and rights, and it's important to understand and explore fully what they are, so that you get the right support you are entitled to, which can help you do your job to the best of your ability and help you manage your condition.

We've worked closely with people with arthritis and related conditions, as well as leading healthcare professionals to put together the information in these pages. We hope that this advice can help you to not only survive in the workplace, but to thrive in your career.

Your rights at work

The 2010 equality act

If you have any health condition, it's important to remember that you have defined rights set out in law which mean you should be treated fairly by your employer.

These rights are designed to protect you against direct and indirect discrimination. What's more, your employer has a legal obligation to make 'reasonable adjustments' to your working environment and practices in order to make sure your condition doesn't prevent you from doing your job to the best of your ability.

The 2010 Equality Act (Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland) makes it unlawful for employers to treat anyone with arthritis or a related condition less favourably than anyone who doesn't have that condition, in these key areas:

  • application forms
  • interview arrangements
  • aptitude or proficiency tests
  • job offers
  • terms of employment, including pay
  • position, transfer and training opportunities
  • dismissal or redundancy
  • discipline and grievances.

Flexible working options

With advances in modern technology and a growing appreciation of the need for employers to respect people's work/life balance, more people are adopting flexible working arrangements, including working from home.

If you have arthritis, joint pain or a related condition, one good option might be to work from home on one, or more, days each week. The feasibility of this will depend on whether you need to be in your workplace and whether you can have access to the necessary technology, such as a laptop.

Working from home for at least part of the week might be a good way to pace yourself and save energy. Benefits will include not needing to commute and being able to relax a bit more than if you were in your workplace.

If you do work from home, make sure that your workstation is set up correctly and that you have an ergonomic chair, a back rest and a foot rest, if you need them. Talk to your company's human resources (HR) department to see if there's any support, advice or help they can give you to make sure your home workstation is set up properly.

If you're working from home, while you'll want to do a good job and prove that working from home is a viable option for you, it's important to avoid the temptation to work longer hours to 'prove' this. This is a known pitfall for people who work from home.

Some people talk about a feeling of unease or even guilt for working at home, but this can be an extremely productive way of working as there can be fewer distractions.

If working part-time is a feasible option for you, this could allow you to continue working and manage your condition.

Talk to your line manager or HR department to find out what flexible working arrangements might be available to you.

If your condition is making certain key elements of your job difficult, you could ask your line manager or HR department if there are opportunities to train for a different role.

Having time off work

There's no need to feel guilty if you do need to take time off work. Everyone feels under the weather sometimes, and if you have arthritis or a related condition there are going to be times when the sensible thing to do is to take time off work in order to rest and get better.

If you do need to take time off, here are some helpful steps you could take:

  • Keep in touch with your employer – either through your line manager or HR department to let them know how you are.
  • Keep in touch with friends at work.
  • Take care of yourself during your time off and follow the advice of your healthcare professional(s).
  • Stay as physically active as possible during your time off; exercise can greatly help rehabilitation.
  • If you feel ready to return to work, ask for a back-to-work interview. You could ask about a phased-return to work, flexible hours and options to work from home for maybe at least some of the week.

If your employer doesn't have an occupational health department, they can refer you to the Fit for Work service, with your consent, once you've been off work for four weeks. This provides access to an occupational health telephone assessment, and advice for you and your employer on any potential changes at work which would support you. They can also develop a Return to Work plan.

For more information visit the Fit for Work for England and Wales or Fit for Work Scotland.

If you're looking for a different job, there's specific support available for people who are finding some elements of work difficult because of an illness, disease or disability. A Disability Employment Advisor (DEA) at your local JobCentre Plus office can help you to retrain, seek appropriate work and/or give you practical support to get back to work.

Talking to your employer about arthritis

Telling your employer about your arthritis, joint pain or related condition at an early opportunity could really help your working life.

It may seem a bit daunting and you may be worried that this will make your employer have a negative view of your capabilities.

However, if you can tell your line manager or HR department about your condition this should lead to you getting support to help you succeed in your job.

Having arthritis or a related condition means that you're entitled to support from your employers to help you do your job to the best of your abilities and in a comfortable and safe environment, which won't make your health worse. These rights are set out in the Equality Act 2010, and in the Disability Discrimination Act in Northern Ireland.

If you're planning on having a discussion with your manager or HR department about your condition, and how it currently affects your job, or might do so in the future, you could have a script ready of things to talk about, possibly including:

  • what condition you have
  • the symptoms you experience
  • how your condition can make you feel on a bad day
  • effects of medication
  • what tasks you may need some help with
  • how your symptoms can vary on a daily basis
  • how you feel that with some support you'll be able to do your job very well
  • what useful support might consist of.

Because arthritis and related conditions can be 'hidden' and your symptoms may vary from day to day, this can make it difficult for some people to understand.

Be confident and positive when having this discussion, remember that you've done nothing wrong and have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Also remember that you're not trying to get any special treatment, you're simply asking for support which you're perfectly entitled to in order to do your job to the best of your ability – which will benefit both you and your employer.

A letter from your doctor, rheumatology consultant or rheumatology nurse specialist may help to explain your condition and the impact it can have on you. You might also like to take any relevant Versus Arthritis information to the meeting to help inform your manager or HR department about your condition.

Try to let your employer know early on when you have an upcoming healthcare appointment, so that they can make any necessary arrangements. You have every right to go to healthcare appointments, and it's important that you do, but your employer will appreciate as much notice as possible. One young person with arthritis told us: "The more good will you can show to your employer, the more you are likely to get back."

Many large companies have separate occupational health departments. Often these are staffed by occupational health nurses and doctors who are experts in assessing and treating these conditions. They may have access to physiotherapists and occupational therapists, who can visit your workplace and recommend any necessary changes. Some companies outsource such services so that even if there isn't an occupational health department within the company's organisational structure, the opportunity is still there for employees to talk to the relevant healthcare professional. If such services are there, it could greatly help you to make use of them.

If you want to, being open with colleagues about your condition might be a good idea. It's entirely your choice who you tell, and you may prefer only to tell close and trusted colleagues. Knowing that you have understanding and caring people around you at work who you can talk to if you're having a bad day can be a good support mechanism.

If you really don't want to talk to your employer about your arthritis, you don't have to unless your symptoms or limitations posed by your condition might put the safety of others at risk (for example, if your job involves driving and you can't turn your head properly to look around), in which case you would be obliged to tell your employer.

If you don't tell your employer, you can get confidential and impartial advice about working life from an NHS occupational therapist, who you can be referred to through your GP. However, if you don't tell your employer about your arthritis you're likely to miss out on vital support and you won't be protected under the Equality Act or Disability Discrimination Act. This is because your employer is obliged to provide support so that your condition doesn't hinder you from doing your job to the best of your ability, or so you're not at a disadvantage, but they're only obliged to provide this assistance once you tell them.

Life skills acquired from managing arthritis

Telling your manager, HR department or other colleagues about your arthritis or related condition doesn't have to be in any way a conversation in which you feel you have to justify yourself. Don't see it as a conversation in which you are on the back foot, but be proactive, positive and confident.

If you tell your employer about your condition, this would be a good chance to talk about how you have overcome hurdles and how you have grown as a person by learning how to manage your arthritis.

There may be several important skills sets, competencies and attitudes you have mastered because of your arthritis. 

Think about how managing you arthritis may have helped you develop the following skills, and how you can demonstrate them in your job:

  • problem solving skills
  • avoiding potential problems
  • good time management
  • creativity
  • a sense of determination
  • being organised
  • being good at planning
  • good communication skills
  • patience
  • the ability to empathise with others
  • succeeding despite the challenges of having arthritis or a related condition.

The experience of people with arthritis or a related condition have shown us that where good, open and supportive relationships exist between an employer and an employee who has disclosed a health condition, that employee often proves to be very loyal, committed and hard working. The research suggests that employers who invest in supporting their employees with their health always get more money back than they spend.

What can I do to help myself at work?

As well as the support that you can get from other people, there's a lot that you can do to help yourself at work when you have arthritis, including keeping a good posture, planning and pacing your work and staying active.

Reduce stress

The effects of stress

Everyday life, particularly working life, can be stressful at times for all of us. If you have arthritis or a related long-term health condition, this can add to feelings of being anxious, overwhelmed or upset.

Stress is powerful, and can have physical effects on the human body.

If something about your condition or your working life is causing you stress or making you feel low, it's important to talk to someone about how you're feeling. This could be a relative, partner, friend, colleague or your manager.

Good posture

Posture and joint health

Having poor posture can have a very negative impact on your joint health. It's important to stand and sit in the correct positions so that you don't put undue strain on muscles, ligaments and joints.

It's also important not to remain in one position for too long. Regularly moving throughout the day is good for your health.

Regular walks and stretches can do you the world of good. Think of the phrases 'your best posture is your next posture' and 'motion is lotion' to remind you the importance of not sitting still for too long.

Plan, prioritise and pace

How to plan and prioritise

Planning ahead, pacing yourself and prioritising tasks could greatly help you get the most important aspects of your work done, and also preserve energy levels.

List the tasks you think you need to do, prioritise them and for each one ask yourself:

  • does this need to be done today?
  • does it need to be done at all?
  • does it need to be me who does it?
  • can I get someone to help me with parts of the task?

Try to concentrate on doing one job at a time, rather than having lots of different jobs ongoing. Think about timeframes and deadlines, the importance of tasks and your energy levels at different times of the day when listing tasks in order of priority.

Think about your work/life balance; are you struggling with tasks around the home? Are other people in your home able to do more? If that's the case, ask for more help with household chores. An option might be to have a cleaner or gardener come once a week or once a fortnight to help you out around the house and garden? If this means that you can stay in work, you will be better off financially in the longer-term.

Keep active

Your physical health

However busy you are, your physical health is too important not to give it the time and attention it deserves. Try to have daily routines which incorporate physical activity, and view them as fun distractions from any stresses that work and life might throw at you.

If you have arthritis or a related condition it might make the thought of exercise unappealing, but regular exercise can greatly improve the symptoms of arthritis and related conditions, such as stiffness, immobility, pain and swelling. Exercise releases endorphins, these chemicals are the body's natural painkillers. Exercising regularly, particularly aerobic exercise, can improve sleep patterns and the quality of sleep you get, which will help you manage pain, generally feel better about yourself and have more energy.

It's sometimes difficult to find time to exercise regularly if you have a busy working life. Exercise may feel even harder if you have arthritis or a related condition, and you'll need to pace yourself throughout the week. However, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that even by doing a little bit of extra exercise each day you'll soon start to feel the benefits, allowing you to cope better with pain and fatigue.

Physically demanding jobs

Identify potential risk

Physically demanding jobs may pose particular challenges and obstacles for people with arthritis or related conditions, such as neck, shoulder and back pain.

Although many jobs are desk-based, a lot of workers carry out manual or physical activities as part of their work, for example:

  • lifting weights
  • climbing ladders
  • pushing/pulling objects
  • doing tasks when bending, kneeling or squatting
  • doing tasks with repetitive actions.

In whatever job you do, the fitter and healthier you are, the better you'll be able to do your job and cope with any physical aspects of it. Having a healthy diet and lifestyle, and exercising regularly, will help you manage your condition and improve your ability to do your job well.

Talk to your employer

Health and safety legislation requires your employer to provide you with the necessary advice, training, clothing and equipment to minimise the risk to your health from any tasks you are required to perform. For example, there are legal limits on the amount of weight any worker can be expected to lift without mechanical assistance. If an employer fails to follow these rules, they can be prosecuted.

If you're finding any physical aspects of your work difficult because of your arthritis or related condition, it's important you discuss this with somebody at your workplace. This could be your line manager or it could be someone in human resources if you feel more comfortable talking to them. Once you have told them about your health issues, they are obliged to take them seriously and keep them confidential in your workplace. The Equality Act requires that you are treated fairly and that you are offered 'reasonable adjustments' so that you can remain at work whatever your health problem.

Reduce your risk of injury

Diet and lifestyle

In whatever job you do, the fitter and healthier you are, the better you'll be able to do your job and cope with any physical aspects of it. Having a healthy diet and lifestyle, and exercising regularly, will help you manage your condition and improve your ability to do your job well.

Driving and commuting

Support and guidance

If you have arthritis or a related condition, particularly if you have had a joint replacement, this may affect your ability to drive.

If you hold a current driving licence and develop arthritis, and the condition affects your driving, you must inform the Drivers Medical Group at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA). The DVLA has more information about driving with a medical condition.

When applying for a provisional licence you must declare that you have arthritis. You'll have to pass the same test as any other driver, but you may be allowed extra time.

It's unlikely that a person with arthritis would be asked to take another driving test simply because of the impact of their condition, but you may be issued with a licence for a shorter period or need to adapt your car with special controls. If your doctor tells you to stop driving because of your medical condition, you must surrender your licence to the DVLA.

Driving Mobility is a charity that helps people with medical conditions which may affect their ability to drive or get into a car. Your regional centre will be able to help with:

  • driving assessments – the assessor can give advice on how to make driving easier and on gadgets (for example panoramic mirrors, seat belt aids) which can help
  • practical advice on special car adaptations, such as swivelling seats, wheelchair hoists or steering wheel knobs
  • passenger assessments to see how you can get in and out of a car more easily.

Public transport

Using busy public transport can be difficult and unpleasant if you're experiencing pain, fatigue or mobility issues. Your condition should mean that you are entitled to have a priority seat on a train or bus. This can be difficult if you have arthritis as your condition is hidden. This is why Transport for London (TfL) has been trialling a scheme where people who have hidden conditions, illnesses and injuries can wear a badge which says 'Please offer me a seat', similar to the 'Baby on Board' badges.

One possible way to avoid using public transport during busy periods could be to ask your employer if they can let you work flexible hours, which could see you either start early and finish early, or start later and finish later, to avoid rush hours. Starting later might also help you avoid travelling at times when your joints might be quite stiff.

Think about what the journey to a potential new workplace would be like if you're applying for jobs.

Tips to look after your joints

Your seat

  • Raise your seat as high as is comfortable so you aren't slouching and so you get a good view of the road, without having to stoop because of the roof.
  • Your seat should be far enough forward so that you can push down all the pedals with your feet without needing to stretch.
  • Your seat cushion will need to support the length of your thighs without putting pressure on the back of your knees.
  • Make sure your back rest supports your back all the way up to shoulder height, while allowing easy reach of all hand controls, and that it's correctly adjusted to provide even pressure in the lumbar region of the spine.

Should I keep working

What to consider

Deciding whether to continue working isn't an easy decision for anyone. You'll need to weigh up a number of factors, including:

  • your reasons for working
  • your present circumstances
  • your options
  • your finances.

Remember that you'll always have options. Try to always look at your options positively and with a mind-set of what you can do and are good at, as much as what you now sometimes struggle with.

Don't make a hasty decision about something as important as work. You may be going through a particularly difficult time with your arthritis or with your job, but you should try and stay positive – things may improve given time and patience. It can be much harder to get back into work, once you leave your job, especially if you have a period of unemployment. Get advice and support first to help you stay in work.

Before you make a decision, you need to be clear in your mind about two important questions:

  1. Do I want to work?
  2. Do I need to work?

Most people work not only for money, but also because working provides a sense of achievement, structure to the day, social contact and social status. However, these things aren't of equal importance to everyone. Juggling home and work is only going to be rewarding if you want to work. However, for many people there's the financial reality of needing to work.

Your options

So, what are your options if you want and need to work? Have you looked at simple solutions, discussed the difficulties with your colleagues but still can't imagine continuing in the same job?

Here are some options and questions you could think through and who you might be able to talk to about them:

  • Is your arthritis, joint pain or related condition likely to get better or worse?
    - healthcare professional
  • What treatment options are there, and are they likely to be successful?
    - healthcare professional
  • Can you do any tasks at work differently to take the strain off joints? Are there any labour-saving gadgets or equipment that will help?
    - employer
    - occupational therapist
    - supportive colleagues
  • Would more help at home take the pressure off you? (for example, help with housework or shopping)
    - partner
    - family
    - friends
  • Can you do some key tasks around the home differently, or with labour-saving gadgets or equipment, to take the strain off key joints? ◦occupational therapist
  • Can you work fewer hours or job share?
    - partner
    - family
    - employer – HR department and line manager
    - occupational therapist
    - Disability Employment Advisor
  • Can you change your job within your current organisation? – same as above
  • Can you work from home for at least some of the week? – same as above
  • Can you retrain for other work – perhaps lighter work?
    - employer
    - careers service
    - Disability Employment Advisor
  • Phased return to work
    - employer
    - occupational therapist
    - Disability Employment Advisor
    - GP or other relevant healthcare professional

You could perhaps go through the questions and options outlined above, making notes and gathering information as you go. It might be a good idea to assess your financial situation before you make any decision.

Try to find someone you can trust, and who can be objective, to talk it over with. It's worth seeking the advice of an occupational therapist. Also, you could find out what your partner and family think.

 

Your finances

Here are some financial considerations and questions to take into account, and ideas of people you might be able to discuss them with:

  • Check your contract or terms of employment
    - HR department at work
  • Do you have permanent health insurance cover?
    - HR department at work
    financial advisor
  • What is your sick leave entitlement?
    - HR department at work
  • How much do you/your family need to live on?
    - partner
    - family
  • What benefits would you be eligible for if you reduced your hours/stopped working?
    - UK Government benefits
    - Northern Ireland Government benefits
    - Citizens Advice
    - your local JobCentre Plus office
  • Can you take early retirement on health grounds?
    - HR department at work
    - financial advisor


The final answer may not be perfect, but it may be a positive one based on all of the best information and advice you can gather. It needs to be the right decision for you, taken at the right time, and supported by those around you.

Planning for retirement

If you do decide that you have reached the time to stop doing paid employment, there are plenty of fun, exciting and worthwhile ventures to which you can apply your skills and talents.

Why not take up a voluntary role? This will allow you to make a very positive contribution to something close to your heart, and you'll meet new people. There are organisations such as the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) which can help you find a volunteering role suitable for you. There are numerous charities which can also offer volunteering roles.

Stopping paid employment is a big transition and it's important to plan carefully, so that you adjust well to the change in your circumstances. Planning things to do once you stop doing paid work can make a big difference.

You might find that you're in a position to help care for an elderly relative, friend or neighbour, which can be a very rewarding and valuable thing to do.

Are there any local clubs or organisations that would be of interest to you? Is there a sport or past-time you have long been interested in which you'd like to take up? Have you thought of taking up, or rekindling any of the following interests?:

  • swimming
  • bowls
  • cooking
  • art
  • computer technology
  • local history
  • travelling
  • studying
  • walking
  • gardening.

The options are endless.

When someone finishes their working life, it can feel a bit emotional and daunting at times, but it can be the start of a very exciting new chapter. The more physically and socially active you remain, the more you'll get out of life.

Research and new developments

The Arthritis Reseaech UK-MRC Centre for Musculoskeletal Health and Work, based at the University of Southampton, is a world-leading centre focused on addressing major research questions to reduce the impact of musculoskeletal disorders such as back pain and arthritis in the workplace.

By collaborating with teams across the UK, the centre aims to:

  • identify cost-effective ways to minimise the impact of musculoskeletal conditions in the workplace
  • train a future generation of researchers in this field
  • establish a national resource for advice on musculoskeletal health and work, accessible to Government, employers, workers, healthcare professionals and patients, and actively promote best work and clinical practice.

Back pain, arthritis and other conditions of musculoskeletal pain are some of the main causes of work disability in the UK, accounting for the loss of 10 million working days per year at a cost of £7 billion. However, there are currently major deficiencies in scientific evidence that would inform policies and interventions aimed at reducing this burden.

By using the breadth of knowledge and skills developed at the centre, the main musculoskeletal causes of work impairment can be better recognised and understood.

The work of this centre will enable workplace and work-related musculoskeletal conditions to be properly addressed, reducing the number of working days lost to these conditions and benefiting patients, workers, employers, and society at large.