How to adjust your work life to your RA
Dawn Richards (Volunteer, Vice President, Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance)
Is there ever a ‘right time’ to tell your employer about your RA?
Alice’s story: My life before RA? Quite a standard ‘9 to 5’, very busy schedule. I’d rush from work to pick up the kids from swimming or hockey or play dates or recitals. I was constantly on the go until one day I was exhausted (despite the four cups of coffee I’d had throughout the day), my joints were in throbbing pain, my feet were sore and swollen and my fingers did not want to do what they were supposed to. My usual walk to the car felt like I was wading very painfully through mud. A few days later, my doctor confirmed my diagnosis – Rheumatoid Arthritis.
At this point, many thoughts were running through my mind. One of my main concerns was my job. I manage a team and have quite a lot of pressure to deliver. I was so worried if my fatigue continued or worsened, I wouldn’t be able to keep up. I didn’t want to be a failure. If I didn’t perform at work, they’d let me go. If I don’t have a job, I can’t pay off the mortgage, or support my kids’ education, and wouldn’t have access to health benefits. The first weeks after my diagnosis were terrible. I was so stressed and worried, which just made all my symptoms worse. Would I be fired? Or, should I just retire early?
Something had to be done, so I went to get advice from an occupational therapist and my doctor.
The best advice I was given was to speak up about my RA. I’m so glad I did as I have now been able to come to terms with my diagnosis and have learned that I don’t have to let it change my life, but I do have to adapt.
I found out from my doctor and patient groups that I was entitled to workplace support to help me be more comfortable at work. So, I worked up the courage and told my manager and then HR about my diagnosis. I’m appreciative that they were supportive, and together we discussed how I could work more flexible hours. My flares are worst in the mornings, so instead of needing to struggle to get out of bed to get to work, now I don’t have to. I can work remotely, take calls from home and ease in to my work day in a more comfortable environment. On the days where I feel good, I love going into the office, and my desk is now set up ergonomically to provide me with the support I need.
Since I’m not in office as often, my role has changed. Having a clear conversation with my manager and HR meant I was able to communicate what job satisfaction and career progression I wanted to maintain but understood that I wouldn’t be able to be as hands-on. We agreed that a more consultant-type role would allow the flexibility and reduced pressure from deadlines and workloads but could provide the training and strategic thinking I loved. It was hard to learn to let go of some areas of work and directly managing a team, but now I get to be involved in projects and oversee the strategies, which is great for my learning and makes me feel part of the team.
I chose to continue working since my career is a big part of who I am, but RA does make it difficult at times. Depending on the severity of your RA and your financial situation, early retirement, working part-time or adapting your working schedule may be more suitable.
There are great ways to enjoy the free-time that comes with early retirement or working part-time, but if you’re like me and you need to continue working, there ARE options to adapt your situation to accommodate the fatigue and pain.
Decide on what works best for you and seek support to make that choice.