Work limitations and employer adjustments for employees with chronic illness

This study measured work limitations and work adjustments among chronically ill employees with regard to three distinct job characteristics: physical work demands, cognitive work demands and social work demands. The study presents findings from an organizational-based survey, from which 610 respondents reported managing employees with a chronic illness. These included arthritis, musculoskeletal pain, diabetes, asthma, migraine, heart disease, irritable bowel syndrome and depression. The results indicate that depression had the largest impact in all three work demand categories, while musculoskeletal pain principally affected physical work demands and migraine and diabetes largely affected cognitive work demands. For other chronic illnesses, it was the generic symptoms of the illness (for example, fatigue) that resulted in a work limitation, rather than the specific nature of the illness itself. Employer work adjustments were available to those people with illnesses that required a physical work adjustment (for example, musculoskeletal pain). For other chronic illnesses, with the exception of depression, disclosing an illness was the strongest predictor for work adjustments in cognitive tasks and the provision of social support. Those with depression were least likely to receive a cognitive work adjustment, indicating either a low disclosure rate in this group or that employers' perceptions of depression may be a barrier to providing suitable work adjustments.