Chronic Illness in the Workplace

Chronic illnesses and employee health issues can decrease workplace morale and bring employee productivity to a halt.

Chronic illnesses and other employee health issues can decrease workplace morale and bring employee productivity to a halt. Being proactive and opening the lines of communication with affected employees can help alleviate some of these issues.

Chronic illnesses cost U.S. employers millions of dollars every year. Allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, epilepsy, diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and mental illness are just a few conditions that can regularly and significantly disrupt work life and your business. If issues arise and are not handled properly by employees or employers, it can be quite costly in terms of productivity, financials, and other resources.

A Delicate Balance

Learning how to handle and interact with employees suffering from chronic illnesses is key to the success of your business. Dealing with an employee’s chronic illness at work can present a delicate balance between the difficulties their illness adds to their lives and keeping the best interest of the business in mind.

Some symptoms of chronic illnesses do not interfere with daily life, but others might. For example:

  • On days with poor air quality, an employee with severe asthma might not be able to come to work.
  • Days with dramatic changes in weather and barometric pressure might trigger a crippling migraine and decrease an employee’s productivity for several days.
  • An employee with diabetes may miss more workdays because of poor lifestyle choices or mismanagement of their condition.
  • An employee ages or receives a diagnosis, he or she may lose motor skill function, decreasing his or her dependability, productivity, and effectiveness at work.

Chronic illnesses cost everyone money. Employers absorb the high cost of chronically ill employees through the loss of productivity, and employees absorb the cost through lower wages or benefits. Employers and employees must work closely together to find a balance that works for both parties.

One of the ways to achieve this balance is to have open communication with your employees.

Open Communication

Having an open-door policy with all your employees is important to the functionality of your business; however, it is especially important for employees with chronic illnesses. Let your employees know you are there for them and that you can help them work through problems as they arise, especially if it affects their work. Be sure to have a non-judgmental, relaxed, and calm environment so they feel comfortable speaking with you about this very personal topic.

Encourage the employee to create a support system at work. This can be challenging if the employee is very private about his or her condition. Reaching out to a fellow coworker can help the employee not feel so isolated by his or her condition at work. Your support might encourage an employee to feel more comfortable and be more effective in their position.

This open-door communication policy can also be a lifesaver, literally. If an employee’s chronic illness or allergy could be fatal or require immediate medical attention in certain environments, it’s important to have a plan documented and communicated to the employee’s support system and other key employees. In the event of an emergency, having skilled human resource professionals in place can make a major impact on the health of your employee(s). By documenting the chronic illness or disability, work colleagues will know exactly how to react if and when an employee suffers an emergency.

Make Accommodations

Let your employees know they have rights when it comes to their illness, and work together to construct a plan that will benefit both parties. Depending on the employee’s condition, he or she may need (and entitled to) special accommodations, such as adjusted work hours, longer lunches, or time off for appointments. They may also need altered workspaces and office accessories, such as a standing desk, ergonomic mouse, or phone cradle, to accommodate a physical ailment.

Open lines of communication, documentation, and accommodation will bring out the best in your employees and your business, creating a mutually beneficial relationship that will increase productivity and morale.

Canopy Health

Here at Canopy Health, we know a thing or two about managing chronic illnesses. We advocate for our members and work together to create a happier, healthier, and more productive Bay Area. And we accomplish our goals through the top-notch physicians and caretakers working at our affiliate hospitals and care centers, state-of-the-art facilities, and innovative and informational health and wellness classes.