The role of sex, gender, health factors, and job context in workplace accommodation use among men and women with arthritis

Monique A Gignac, Selahadin Ibrahim, Peter M Smith, Vicki Kristman, Dorcas E Beaton, Cameron A Mustard

Annals of Work Exposures and Health 2018; 62(4): 490–504

Published: February 2018


Background: With the aging of populations in many countries, workers are expected to remain employed longer but may struggle with the onset of common, chronic conditions like arthritis. To date, few studies have examined workplace policies and practices that could help accommodate individuals with arthritis, and fewer still have used a sex and gender-based approach to explore similarities
and differences between women and men.

Objectives: This study compared the health and work contexts of workers aged ≥50 years to better understand similarities and differences between women and men in accommodation availability, need, use, and unmet needs.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey of men and women with osteoarthritis (OA), inflammatory arthritis (IA), or both OA and IA was administered online or by telephone and assessed demographics (e.g. age, education), health (e.g. pain, fatigue, workplace activity limitations), work context factors (e.g. job sector, full/part-time work, job control), and workplace accommodations (e.g. health benefits, flexible hours, special equipment/adaptations, modified duties). Sex and gender-based analyses examined similarities and differences between men and women and included descriptive statistics, multivariable multinomial analyses, and nested regression analyses.

Results: There was a 58.9% response rate and final sample of 463 participants (women, n = 266; men, n = 197; OA = 59.0%; IA/both IA and OA = 23.7%; unsure = 17.3%). Women and men were significantly different in a number of health (e.g. fatigue, health variability, workplace activity limitations) and work context factors (e.g. job sector, part-time work, job stress). However, in other respects, they were similar (e.g. pain, job involving physical demands, size of organization, shift work, union membership, job control). There were no differences between men and women in the availability or use of workplace accommodations. However, women reported significantly more accommodation needs and had greater unmet needs. Multivariable multinomial analyses found male/female as a binary variable did not explain differences in accommodation need, use, and unmet need. Nested analyses highlighted that differences in health variables explained male/female differences in accommodation need, while work context differences explained male/female differences in whether needs were met.

Conclusions: The findings highlight that women and men draw on a range of existing accommodation policies and practices to help manage their arthritis and that most have their accommodation needs met. Decomposing the context within which men and women with arthritis work suggests that women may face health and work context challenges that differ from men and that are related to greater accommodation needs and unmet need. This highlights potential vulnerabilities in the work  of women that need to be addressed.