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Survey reveals impact of rheumatoid arthritis in the workplace

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A growing number of employers in the UK don’t know enough about rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS).

The research, conducted in partnership with the University of Manchester, investigated the impact of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and adult juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) in the workplace.

More than a third (39%) of the 1,500 people surveyed feel that their employer lacks awareness of RA, compared to 29.5% in the previous survey in 2007. Awareness levels are particularly low at small and medium-sized firms, which are less likely to have an internal HR department.

The good news is that more people with the condition are now in work — 63% compared to 55% in 2007. However, more than half of the participants would feel unable to continue work if their job became more physically or emotionally demanding, highlighting the need for appropriate support in the workplace.

In fact, 41.5% of those surveyed have already had to change jobs since the onset of their illness and 15% were even forced to stop working altogether. Only half of those working were offered adjustments such as flexible working, reduced hours or special equipment in their last job.

Employees believe that having “time off when feeling unwell or experiencing a flare up” is the biggest barrier they currently face at work, with more than a third (37%) ranking this as a serious or very serious problem.

This is closely followed by “lack of support from an employer or line manager”, while one in four of those working with RA cited the “lack of understanding from their colleagues” as a serious problem.

Commenting on the findings, Matthew Bezzant, policy and public affairs manager at NRAS, said: “It’s really interesting to see how the evolving workplace is affecting people with auto-immune conditions like RA. As the adoption of flexi-working increases and new laws to protect employees come into place, there is still a need for companies to invest time understanding these conditions, especially as desk-based work is continuing to increase.”

It’s important for HR teams and managers of smaller businesses to understand that conditions like RA are manageable in the workplace, Bezzant added.