How to Integrate Chronically Ill Workers

Any organization is only as good as the people working for it. People are the blood that keeps it alive and makes it grow. But, what happens when a key employee is diagnosed with a chronical disease? In what way does this affect the organization? What can a company do to turn the gloomy situation in its favor? How can they support their people in a way that makes the person feel well cared for, and still an important part of the organization?

Studies show that half of the Americans suffer from one or more chronic health conditions. Bear in mind that some of the diseases included on the list are arthritis, rheumatism, cancer, heart and blood problems, diabetes, epilepsy, migraines, depression, chronic anxiety and more. One in three suffers from cardiovascular disease, and another one in three is obese, while 25% have more than one condition. An employee can have multiple problems, making their ability to focus on work even harder.

Challenges of working with chronically ill employees

Typically, employees suffering from chronic diseases are past their thirties and have already accumulated enough experience to be key players. Removing such an individual from their position means wasting years of training and know-how. Keeping them at work without the necessary adjustments translates to presenteeism, a decrease in their performance due to illness interference.

The biggest problem in companies that have chronically ill employees is that help occurs only at the tertiary level after the person is no longer able to work. If support was available from the early stages before the work disability starts or even during the secondary level (while the person with a work disability is having problems functioning at work). This condition results in wasted talent, a productivity loss and ultimately a substantial cost to the company, both in ROI and in the perceived image of the organization.

From vision to implementation-corporate culture best practices

Managing chronically ill employees is not only an HR problem but one that is governed by corporate culture and should be formalized in a contractual relationship.

Also read: SME’s Guide to Creating Your First Employee Handbook

Small changes

Adjustments can be made at the level of:

  • Physical arrangements, including ergonomic furniture, moving the office downstairs or to a quieter place, that is less stressful.
  • Formal practices, by decreasing the number of working hours allocated to the chronically ill employees and delegating some of their tasks to other team members.
  • Informal methods, which include a broad range of non-contractual arrangements that help the person perform at their best and are based on flexibility and understanding.

Excellent organizational practices

The three directions of successfully integrating chronically ill employees are flexibility, having a proactive approach and empowering the employee.

Flexibility means bending the corporate rules to accommodate the needs of the employee in front of you while maintaining a fair-play environment. Simple, inexpensive accommodations like allowing a longer lunch break, are a way of showing the employee that their effort is treasured by the company.

Openness and being solution-oriented helps the employees struggling with a chronic condition redesign the way they work. Employees should feel safe discussing their needs with the manager, asking for resources they require to perform their jobs and feel in control.

These two dimensions built the third, empowerment, defined as a process to help patients develop knowledge, skills and a heightened awareness of their values and needs.

Also read: Understanding the Benefits of an Unlimited Vacation Policy

Steps towards self-management

A healthy employee manages their time, energy and motivation much easier than when they face a debilitating condition. However, if they want to continue their activity, this can even have therapeutic effects. Yet, before they do so, there are important steps to follow:

  • Acceptance– give people the time to reflect on the new work circumstances and the options they have.
  • Discuss the consequences of a chronic disease for work, including the decreased ability to fulfill their duties and the need of additional external help.
  • Encourage and support patients with a chronic illness to carry out health behaviors such as prescribed medication adherence, following an appropriate diet plan and exercising have proven to be beneficial in reducing disease symptoms and improving health and well-being.
  • Advise them to get professional help. Not all companies afford to offer top medical support for chronically ill employees. Treatments can be costly. You can work together with them to find a solution to finance the treatments they need as early as possible.
  • Offer 360 degrees help. If they had already spent a considerable amount of diagnosis and treatments, there is a high chance of having damaged their finances. They need the reassurance that they are not also losing their job with their recommends accessing a credit repair service to settle matters that may have accumulated. Financial problems can deepen or trigger anxiety.

 Final thoughts

The most important aspects of successfully integrating chronically ill employees are the degree of participation of the individual and the collaboration among stakeholders. An employee is actively participating when they design their work plan and have the motivation and corporate support to do so.

Employers should pay attention not only to somatical diseases such as diabetes but to mental conditions as well. Depression is by far the most stigmatizing condition, and employees are less likely to receive a work adjustment despite disclosure.

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Photo by Joshua Ness on Unsplash