Hacks for Working with an Autoimmune Condition

Hacks for Working with an Autoimmune Condition

For many with chronic conditions like arthritis, maintaining a career can be challenging, with the condition making certain aspects of your job more difficult. However, there are a number of ways to alter your approach to working and ensure that work remains feasible. Work is, of course, important for financial stability. But it can also provide a sense of purpose, identity, self-worth, and a larger supportive social network.

Know Your Rights

Many patients do not realize that they are legally entitled to a certain amount of support that will help them to do their job to the very best of their ability. Limited mobility and the significant pain experienced by many with autoimmune conditions is usually enough to have your treating doctor diagnose a disability, thus ensuring employees are considered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Employers with fifteen or more staff need to make reasonable accommodations (that do not pose undue hardship on the company) for employees with disabilities.

Open Communication

Create an open dialogue with your employer that allows you to discuss the situation. The best approach is for you to be positive, confident and honest about the ways in which your condition affects you. Remember that you have not done anything wrong and shouldn’t be ashamed. You are not seeking special treatment; you are simply asking for support that you deserve. Remember that this helps the employer as well as benefitting you. Many autoimmune conditions are invisible, be aware that your colleagues and employer may not be aware of your condition and may have little understanding of it. It can help to provide your employer with a simple fact sheet about your condition or a letter from your physician so that your situation has context (ANRF fact sheets are available here https://curearthritis.org/receive-your-free-arthritis-fact-sheets/). Often, once aware of the situation, employers are happy to assist in ways that ensure a productive and happy workforce. There are organizations and schemes that offer help to employers to allow them to more easily meet the costs of reasonable adjustments. Occupational therapists and health services can provide guidance on the adjustments that will offer the greatest benefit in your situation.

Adapt and Thrive – What you can do

Work out the most suitable time to take your medication so that you feel your best during your working hours. Plan ahead to ensure the least amount of disruption to your work, colleagues and employer. For example, schedule your medical appointments during the quietest time of the month at work. Make sure that anyone who relies on you is aware of any planned absences so that they can make any necessary adjustments to their own schedule.

Good health and fitness routines can reduce the amount of time you need to take off for issues not related to your condition. A good level of physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle will also minimize the pain and impact of your condition, ensuring that you do not miss more time off from work than absolutely necessary.

Find out what the neutral position is for various joints. Your joints are less likely to act up if they are in a position that reduces the amount of stress and strain placed on them. For example, the neutral position for your knees is slightly bent, this can be achieved when sitting in a chair by extending your feet forward a little. For your wrist, the neutral position is having your hand and forearm in a straight line so adjust your keyboard and arm placement to prevent your wrist from bending while working on your computer.

Most jobs, whether working at a desk or not, involve a certain amount of repetitive motion. Repetitive stress injuries can greatly exacerbate arthritis pain. To avoid this, plan frequent breaks. Ask your physiotherapist for short quick exercises that you can do to limit the impact of these repeated motions. This also helps to reduce strain from remaining in any one position for extended periods. You can also plan your tasks in a way that allows you to change your position more frequently throughout the day.

Adapt and Thrive – What your employer can do

In order to support your efforts, your employer can make a number of reasonable adjustments. As mentioned earlier, fostering good communication will allow these to have the greatest positive impact for everyone concerned.

Advances in modern technology means that flexible working arrangements are becoming more common. Your employer can modify schedules and allow leave on short notice. Discuss the options of working from home or making up time in the evenings or weekends if you needed to take time off during normal working hours. This reduces commuting time and can allow a greater level of relaxation and comfort than you could achieve at your workplace. If this is an option, talk to the human resources department to see if they can offer support, advice or help to ensure your home workstation is set up properly.

If you do go into the workplace more frequently, your employer can accommodate you by ensuring the workplace is easily accessible, such having ramps as an option instead of stairs or ensuring you have a close parking bay to reduce the distance you have to walk.

An ergonomic workstation and specialized equipment can go a long way in providing relief and reducing unnecessary strain. This can include an adjustable desk that allows you to work in different positions such as alternating between sitting and standing. An ergonomic office chair has an adjustable seat height, seat depth and proper lumbar support in order to maintain good posture. Ergonomic keyboards reduce pressure within the carpal tunnel, which carries the nerves that control the hand. As these are adjustable you can find the position most comfortable for you. If your position requires you to consult heavy books or manuals, consider using a book holder to prop up the texts on your desk. Something as small, easy and inexpensive as pencil and pen grips can offer a lot of relief on days that your hands are stiff and swollen.

Hi Ho Hi Ho it’s Off to Work We Go

No two people with an autoimmune condition will experience the exact same symptoms, so there is no one size fits all solution that employers can apply. Some trial and error may be needed in order to work out the best ways in which your employer can support and accommodate you. It’s important to be clear about your symptoms and needs in order to get the greatest benefit from any accommodations that are being considered.

For many with a chronic illness, the ability to earn a living is a concern. It’s important to realize that, with the appropriate support, there’s no reason why you cannot successfully hold down a job. Don’t forget that dealing with your condition may actually give you a unique set of skills like problem-solving, determination, good time management, and organization. This makes you an asset to employers. Don’t despair, many of the accommodations discussed will help you to keep your career moving forward despite the challenges of living with your condition.

Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. There are several ways to support research through the ANRF. Find out more and donate today.

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