“Should I tell my employer and coworkers I have arthritis?” A longitudinal examination of self‐disclosure in the work place

Monique A. Gignac, Xingshan Cao

Arthritis & Rheumatism (Arthritis Care & Research) 2009; 61(12): 1753–1761


Published: December 2009


Objective. To examine arthritis self-disclosure at work, factors associated with disclosure, and prospective relationships of self-disclosure and work place support with changes to work place interactions, work transitions, and work place stress.

Methods. Using a structured questionnaire, participants with osteoarthritis or inflammatory arthritis were interviewed at 4 time points, 18 months apart. At time 1, all participants (n = 490; 381 women, 109 men) were employed. Of the entire sample, 71% were retained throughout the study. Respondents were recruited using community advertising and from rheumatology and rehabilitation clinics. Self-disclosure and perceived support from managers and coworkers was assessed, as well as demographic, illness, work-context, and psychological variables. Generalized estimating equations modeled associations of disclosure and support on changes at work (e.g., job disruptions, work place stress).

Results. At each time point, 70.6–76.6% of participants had self-disclosed arthritis to their manager and 85.2–88.1% had told a coworker. Intra-individual variability in disclosure was considerable. Factors associated with self-disclosure were often inconsistent over time, with the exception of variables assessing the need to self-disclose (e.g., activity limitations) and perceived coworker support. Self-disclosure was not associated with changes to work. However, coworker support was related to fewer job disruptions, help with work tasks, and being less likely to reduce hours. Perceived managerial support was associated with less work place stress.

Conclusion. Greater awareness is needed about issues related to self-disclosing arthritis at work. This study emphasizes the importance of a supportive work place, especially supportive coworkers, in decisions to discuss arthritis at work and in changes to work that might enable people to remain employed.