Objective: A qualitative study was conducted to better understand patients' perspective on their experience at work in relation to their inflammatory arthritis (IA). Objectives were to identify the problems and barriers to employment that persons with IA face at work because of arthritis, understand why these issues are problematic, and identify strategies helpful for maintaining employment.
Methods: Five focus groups were conducted with 36 employed adults with IA (75% rheumatoid arthritis) recruited from rheumatology practices and outpatient arthritis treatment programs. Script design used brainstorming techniques to identify problems and helpful strategies, and root cause analysis to capture in-depth information about underlying causes of problems. Descriptive qualitative analysis of transcripts was performed by 2 researchers independently to identify problems and organize them into topics and broad categories.
Results: Problems clustered around 4 categories: arthritis symptoms, working conditions, interpersonal difficulties at work, and emotional challenges. New insights gained included identifying fatigue as the aspect of IA most limiting employment; challenges posed by invisibility, fluctuation, and unpredictability of arthritis; complexity of interpersonal relationships at work; reluctance to disclose or draw attention to arthritis; numerous barriers to using available supports and requesting job accommodations, including fear of disclosure and concern it could be perceived by coworkers as favoritism; loss of self-efficacy at work; and many emotional challenges.
Conclusion: This research identified new issues that are meaningful to individuals working with arthritis and that deserve greater attention by professionals counseling people on employment, in intervention efforts to help maintain employment, and in arthritis employment studies.