How To Support Employees With Chronic Illnesses in the Workplace

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There are few things in life more rewarding than doing well in a job you love. For many of us, career success is one principal source of life satisfaction and personal fulfillment.

However, when an employee is facing a chronic illness, professional goals can feel nearly impossible to achieve. Fortunately, though, there are things that employers can do to help their employees manage their health while also cultivating a long and successful career. This article describes those strategies that you can implement today to help you support the success and well-being of your employees with chronic illnesses for years to come.

Why Support Matters

Managing both a career and a chronic illness brings a host of formidable challenges, not only for the employee but also for the employer. Nevertheless, the commitment to supporting employees with chronic illnesses isn’t just a moral good, it also makes sound business sense.

The simple reality is that the number of adults being diagnosed with chronic illness is rapidly rising. To discount their needs in the workplace is to hamstring or entirely disenfranchise immense segments of the labor force.

Every business leader knows how difficult it can be to find and retain top talent. This is why it behooves savvy employers to do their utmost to facilitate the health, performance, and productivity of workers experiencing a chronic illness.

Provide Comprehensive Wellness Packages

One of the most important and effective things you can do to support chronically ill employees is to provide comprehensive wellness benefits for your staff. This should include medical and mental health insurance coverage.

This will aid your employees in long-term disease management while also supporting their emotional and psychological health, enabling them to more effectively address the stressors that inevitably arise from pursuing a career while battling a persistent health condition.

Offer Supplemental Benefits 

In addition to ensuring that your employees have access to consistent, affordable, and high-quality physical and mental healthcare, you might also offer supplemental resources, such as discounted gym memberships, chiropractic care, or massage therapy.

For employees whose condition leads to chronic pain, these resources can greatly reduce pain symptoms by addressing the root cause of persistent pain, such as obesity, physical inactivity, or vertebral misalignment.

Driving Efficiency Through Employee Empowerment

Employees who are experiencing a chronic medical condition are already dealing with constant struggles each day. The last thing they need is to be micromanaged by an employer who, no matter how empathetic they may be, likely cannot understand how the employee’s condition affects them on a day-to-day, or even hour-by-hour, basis. 

It’s imperative to operate with both compassion and humility as a leader who is seeking to support an employee facing a chronic health challenge. There will almost inevitably be experiences, feelings, and needs — both inside and outside of the workplace — that you cannot understand unless you have walked in your employee’s shoes.

For this reason, it’s a good idea to allow your employee to take the lead in determining what they need to manage their health while also doing their job effectively. This means that strong communication and deep trust will be essential on both sides.

Working closely with your employee to determine what kinds of accommodations are likely to be needed to help prevent a last-minute scramble to adjust the workflow when your employee can’t perform their work in the usual way. For example, you might work with your employee to set up a secure remote platform to enable them to work from home on days when their condition prevents them from commuting to the office. With this home office in place, your employee can simply shift to the virtual office when they need to without having to receive permission or give advance notice.

This kind of autonomy, flexibility, and trust will enable your employee to better manage their health without being compelled to withdraw from the workplace. At the same time, by creating a comprehensive plan for accommodating the employee’s health needs while maintaining the desired workflow — and communicating that plan to all affected members — you’re not only going to alleviate some of the work-related anxiety your employee may feel, but you’re also going to ensure continuity, productivity, and efficiency in your business.  

The Takeaway

Living with a chronic illness is not easy, particularly when you are trying to maintain and advance your career. But it can also be challenging when you are an employer endeavoring to support your employee through this process. Nevertheless, there are many tangible steps you can take to assist your employee in prioritizing their health and well-being without compromising their career. 

The key is to ensure your employee has access to the mental and physical healthcare they need and to provide supplemental resources to facilitate disease and symptom management. It’s also critical to remain humble, compassionate, flexible, and communicative, cultivating a work environment designed to accommodate employees’ needs without compromising efficiency and productivity.

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