Arthritis and work surveys: how your experiences are helping us address barriers to work

22 April 2024

We understand the impact arthritis can have on work, as we regularly hear from people with arthritis, through our groups and branches, free helpline, and online community.

We also know that people with arthritis are 20% less likely to be in work than those without arthritis.

We wanted to create meaningful work-related resources for people with arthritis, employers, HR, employability, and workplace health professionals.

So, we carried out two surveys and worked with researchers from Centre of Musculoskeletal Health and Work (CMHW).

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What were the the surveys?

Our survey 'Understanding work-related support for people with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions', heard from people living with arthritis, their experience of work and trying to access support.  

Read our survey of people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions


We also partnered with Society of Occupational medicine (SOM) to hear from workplace professionals ‘Identifying work-related training and resources for workplace professionals’.

Read our survey of workplace professionals


Both reports highlight:

  • the difficulties finding the support and adjustments people need to work with arthritis.
  • the problems workplace professionals experience supporting people to remain in or return to work. 

In addition to these surveys, we worked with Centre of Musculoskeletal Health and Work (CMHW) to help us understand what information is out there, and how useful and accessible it is. 

Improving awareness and access to work resources for people with musculoskeletal conditions

859 people completed the survey (36% of these people were employed). 

What were the aims of the survey?

This survey aimed to:

  • explore awareness and use of work-related support services amongst people with rheumatic and musculoskeletal conditions. 
  • describe the work resources provided by rheumatic and musculoskeletal charities in the UK. 
  • identify areas for improvement. 
Read the report


How did we create the survey?

To create the survey we:

  • Created a UK cross-sectional web-based survey of people diagnosed with a rheumatic or musculoskeletal condition. We asked questions on awareness and use of work-related support services. 
  • Co-designed with patient partners and shared to charities and social media channels 
  • Searched charity websites for information on work, including breadth and frequency of topics covered. 
  • Worked with patient partners to assess the usefulness of topics covered and any gaps. 

Where do people look for work information?

They found, the most common places to look for information: 

  • general web searches  
  • charity websites 
  • NHS (directly from clinical services or the NHS website). 

Least common places:  

  • NHS 24 musculoskeletal helpline  
  • local council office  
  • and musculoskeletal app.  

What did our survey discover?

Responses to the survey questions found: 

  • only 7% received work advice/rehabilitation from an NHS therapist.
  • 13% received advice from an occupational health practitioner.
  • 73% were not aware of support from disability employment advisor/Job Centre.
  • 70% were not aware that work support was available.
  • 57% were not aware of ‘Access to Work’.

18 UK rheumatic and musculoskeletal charities were identified and their websites reviewed, including Versus Arthritis.

Topics covered included:

  • legal aspects.
  • government programmes e.g. access to work.
  • local sources of support e.g. occupational health.
  • HR.
  • practical advice and support e.g., changing jobs, commuting, benefits, discrimination, employer advice.
  • if information were freely available.  

The findings showed: 

  • significant variation in work information, and employer information was limited.
  • common topics included advice self-managing conditions at work (posture, regular breaks) and purchasing of equipment.
  • patient partners found navigating work information challenging.
  • differences in work policy across devolved nations was often not acknowledged.
  • external signposting to NHS and government resources was variable and often absent.
  • limited internal signposting between charities to those with more comprehensive resources. 

How can work resources and information be improved?

People who took part in the survey made several suggestions to improve work content. These include:

  • Simpler language and signposting to ‘bona fide’ information.
  • Positive patient stories and help with ‘soft skills’ e.g., how to have constructive conversations with their employer.
  • Better employer training, as not all employees had access to occupational health services. 

The take home messaging from this is that:

  • Patients want simpler language, positive patient stories, and help with ‘soft skills’.
  • There are key gaps in awareness and signposting to relevant information, services, and support.

As a result of this work and the findings, Versus Arthritis is currently reviewing its website content and relevant resources. We will also be upskilling staff on work-related information and signposting.  

We also offer ‘Understanding arthritis in the workplace’ training for employers and employability professionals to help improve work support and outcomes for people living with arthritis and musculoskeletal conditions. 

Contact our Working Well team