Between an aging workforce and the impacts of the pandemic, the importance of supporting employees with health issues has never been greater.
Chronic physical health issues can range from mild back pain to severe pain throughout the body. Some people with these conditions are in so much pain they can’t work, while others continue to work full-time.
Mental health conditions include (but are definitely not limited to) anxiety, depression, addiction, and eating disorders.
Employees may have a physical health condition, mental health condition, or both. The two are closely linked – a change in someone’s physical health could trigger depression or anxiety, for example. Stress or depression can also cause joint pain.
Work can cause or exacerbate many mental and physical health conditions. That’s why it’s important that employers do what they can to support employees. You want to make it clear you’re there to assist them, not punish them, when they aren’t 100% healthy. Because, let’s be honest: who is?
All that being said, employees with health issues can be reluctant to share their condition(s) with their employer. They may believe their manager won’t support them, or fear people will treat them differently.
It can often feel like diversity statements tagged on to the end of job postings are just paying lip service to a legal requirement, rather than something the company actually stands for and genuinely means.
The simplest way to show candidates you genuinely mean it is with evidence. Hire employees with different health issues and backgrounds and support them so that they can thrive in their roles.
Just because someone may have difficulty walking, or struggle with anxiety, that doesn’t mean they can’t benefit your business.
Don’t make assumptions
The first thing to remember – and I’m sorry, but you’re probably not going to like this – is that chronic health issues can be inconsistent.
Some days, an employee with fibromyalgia may be able to walk for miles.
The next, they may not be able to make it to their desk.
Such is the nature of chronic pain. It’s unpredictable.
To find the best way to help an employee, don’t make assumptions about what they need based on your personal experience or preconceived notions.
Regardless of what health issues someone is dealing with, everyone’s experiences are different.
Many health conditions manifest differently for everyone, creating a unique cocktail based on people’s individual backgrounds, experiences, minds, and bodies.
How can you improve your office environment to better support employees with health issues?
Certain things within an office can make pain worse, regardless of what originally caused that pain.
For instance, cold temperatures, or drafts from air conditioning units, can wreak havoc on tense joints and exacerbate pain.
Flexible working hours can be particularly beneficial for employees with health issues. Not being tied to working 9-5 means that if they’re having a bad pain day, they can rest in the morning, then still get their tasks done by the end of the day. Sometimes all it takes is a couple of extra hours of rest to calm chronic pain.
However, cultures that don’t trust employees to do their jobs often employ Big Brother-style practices, making everyone feel watched and pressured. Which can make any health issue worse. And create a vicious cycle.
Another option is allowing employees to work from home, full- or part-time. This option widens your talent pool as well. You won’t be constrained to only hiring people who work near where your offices are located.
Sometimes the best person for a role lives on the other side of the country. Do you really want to miss out on someone because they can’t relocate to where you are? And have them go to a competitor because that competitor allows them to work remotely?
Reduce workplace triggers
Remote working allows employees to work in their own environment, which can be beneficial for those who find office environments challenging.
Offices can be full of stimuli that not everyone notices, but which can trigger pain in people who have sensory processing disorder (SPD). These environments can be overwhelming for anyone who has SPD. As a result, they can’t do their role to the best of their ability, and are more likely to leave the organization.
Other, simple changes, like purchasing equipment that benefits employees with health issues will also help. This could be a sit/stand desk, so they can work in a way that minimizes discomfort.
Or maybe it’s a chair that offers more support. Chairs are often underestimated, but, as someone who had chronic back pain until changing jobs, I can attest to how much of a difference they make.
More ergonomic chairs may be expensive, but you’ll save money long-term because employees will spend less time off work with chronic back pain. And they’ll be more comfortable working, which means they’ll get more done.
For anyone who struggles with migraines, headaches, or eye-related problems, getting a filter for their monitor to try to prevent eye strain will allow them to work for longer. Some monitors also have an eye-saver mode, which gives the screen a yellow hue (like Night Mode on phones).
There are lots of small changes you can make to accommodate employees with health issues. They don’t have to be big, dramatic changes.
But those changes can have a big, dramatic effect on an employee’s ability to do their best work.
It can also help you to create and retain a happier, more productive, and more engaged workforce where everyone feels more supported in their roles.
And let’s not forget – more diverse companies are more successful. So is there really any downside to supporting your differently abled employees?
Building transparency around your employee programs to maximize access is also a crucial part of ensuring every employee feels supported and included. Workrowd can help. Check out our all-in-one platform for managing and measuring employee initiatives across diverse workforces, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.