Some of your employees have chronic pain, even if they never mention it. While their health woes aren’t your problem, they do impact workplace performance.
Assisting your staff with health concerns isn’t about doling out “special favors.” It’s empowering your team members to become their productive best. Here are five pointers for helping employees with chronic pain.
1. Let Them Choose Their Workstation
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), repetitive-stress injuries impact 1.8 million workers per year and cost between $17 billion and $20 billion. Making your workplace more ergonomic eases chronic pain among employees — and may save you money.
According to the Mayo Clinic, proper office ergonomics require adjustable chairs that support worker’s spinal curves and allow even the shortest to sit with their feet comfortably on the floor. Wrist supports and oversized monitors help your employees tackle tasks without squinting or holding their arms at impossible angles.
However, one-size is not fits-all, especially when it comes to chronic pain. Allow your employees to have some say over their workstations. Many folks report reduced achiness from variable-height desks that let them move from sitting to standing, but others might lose consciousness from standing too long.
Some people report significant pain relief from using an inflatable exercise ball instead of a chair, while others report the opposite effect. Those with degenerative disk disease or other chronic low-back pain issues might benefit most as these devices strengthen the muscles lining the spine, putting less pressure on individual vertebrae.
2. Make Accommodations a Way of Doing Business
Many people with chronic pain hesitate to ask for workplace accommodations. Federal and state laws protect those with disabilities from discrimination. However, your employees understand that the at-will nature of employment relationships means that you can terminate them for any reason — just not an illegal one. If they perceive they were unfairly let go before, the once-bitten rule applies.
Therefore, they hesitate to ask for accommodations, even when they would improve their overall productivity. You can’t compel the tell — but you can make reasonable accommodations available to every employee. Don’t merely mention perks like flextime in your employee handbook. Cover how various current employees use these incentives as part of your orientation process to raise comfort levels.
3. Offer Flextime and Paid Leave
Many doctors keep stricter business hours than bankers — they don’t offer evenings or weekends. Patients who take prescriptions require frequent visits to check medications and meet insurance requirements. Newbies with chronic conditions may skip needed appointments if they fear repercussions for requesting time off.
Flextime allows workers to tend to appointments without necessarily asking. It’s ideal if it doesn’t matter to you what hour work gets done, as long as it’s completed. Plus, it’s an inexpensive way to reward your workers — few perks come for free, so take advantage.
It’s also unfortunate that the U.S. does not guarantee health coverage to all citizens. As a result, many chronically ill employees have mountains of debt that never stops accumulating. Even if you pay them fairly, health care costs have skyrocketed 31-fold over the past four decades at the same time that the average wage has stagnated. Merely trying to stay afloat breaks many.
Your employees will never tell you, “I can’t afford time away to take care of my health” — they know it isn’t your responsibility to solve their problems. However, it’s tough to put a dollar value on the relief that comes from attending a needed doctor visit without coming up short on rent. Please offer paid leave if your budget allows it.
4. Open Communication Doors and Normalize Sensitive Conversations
It’s challenging to overestimate the hardships faced by those with chronic pain. They know their physical sensations are valid, but everyone from well-meaning friends and family to distant co-workers accuses them of exaggerating their symptoms to get special favors. It’s hard to speak your truth when people keep calling you a liar.
As a result, many such folks withdraw into themselves. If you want your employees to feel safe, normalize matters like discussing depression and anxiety. Pay attention to your office politics — does the workplace Negative Nancy always roll her eyes and say, “Oh, so-and-so’s out for another mental health day?” If so, privately take her aside to address the behavior.
5. Encourage Information Sharing
Chronic pain is isolating. Such individuals often start their days with fewer “spoons” and may lack the energy for after-hours socializing or anything beyond their careers. When the only people they have contact with all day are the colleagues they feel they must remain on guard around, they understandably feel lonely.
Make their lives a little easier by encouraging the free exchange of ideas. If you have an employee assistance program, prominently post that information near water coolers and in break rooms. If you know of community resources such as support groups that helped others in the past, request a few brochures or contact information.
Follow These 5 Pointers to Help Employees With Chronic Pain
Employees with chronic pain have often been through the ringer, but they will be your hardest working team members when empowered with what they need to thrive. Follow the five pointers above to help your staff members.