There is currently an increasing number of individuals in the workforce who are suffering from chronic medical issues. This is caused by an aging population in many sectors, improvements in medicine leading to higher survival rates and abilities in individuals diagnosed with lifelong diseases, and a high prevalence of lifestyle risks. While many employers may be averse to hiring individuals with chronic medical issues, it is important for these individuals to obtain and maintain work as it leads to an increased sense of normalcy, higher financial resources, better social well-being, and an overall higher quality of life. Due to the increasing number of individuals with chronic medical issues that employers are likely to come across, it is important to understand ways in which the employer can better support employees in this demographic.
The best way to support an employee who is dealing with a chronic medical issue is to ensure that they have a high quality of working life (QWL). While factors that contribute to an individual’s QWL will vary from sector to sector, and role to role, they can be summed up into 3 main categories, each consisting of multiple themes. These 3 categories are the characteristics of the specific job, the social structure and environment around the employee, and the individual’s perceptions of their job. All 3 categories are important to consider either when hiring a new employee, supporting a current employee with a chronic medical condition, or having a current employee return to work with a chronic medical condition.
There are many important factors to consider when looking at the characteristics of the job. It is important to make sure the demands and duties of the job, as well as the work hours, are something the individual can work with. In some cases, it helps if the employee has flexibility in their duties and work hours so that their work will not negatively impact their condition. By giving these flexible hours and duties, the employee can also be in a condition in which they are more effective and productive when working their job. Another important characteristic is job security and potential for growth. If an employee is worried about their job security being impacted by their condition, this can increase stress and lower their QWL. As a counter, if there is room for them to grow within the company despite their condition, this can increase passion and commitment to the job. Finally, employers want to make sure the employee can receive any accommodations to their work environment they need to excel in their job, which can address anything from their ability to access the work site to the ease in which they can conduct their work in each space, or even the ability to perform their work remotely.
The social structure and environment play another large role in the QWL of employees with chronic medical conditions. The QWL of these individuals can be improved if support and assistance can be provided by both management and their colleagues. Communication within the work environment also plays a large role. It is important that the employee knows that there are open and non-judgmental lines of communication between themselves and management to address any issues they may be dealing with. Additionally, the disclosure of any medical information or accommodations to other parties outside of the employer and the employee should be left up to the employee. The employer should be sure to address any negative attitudes or misunderstandings that they themselves, or colleagues, hold when it relates to the employee’s medical issues.
An individual’s perceptions of their work can have a direct impact on their QWL. As an employer, it is important to give the employee space to talk about their emotions and stress levels as it relates to their job. The values of the workplace need to be looked at to make sure they include the employee, and that the employee can contribute to carrying out those values. Employers can help the employee identify what their specific role is within the company and ways in which they are contributing value to the employer and their colleagues. It can be helpful to build up the employees’ sense of self-esteem and competency in relation to their work. Increasing these factors can improve an employee’s dedication to their job as well as their feelings of being supported and included in the work culture.
While there are many aspects that can contribute to supporting an employee with chronic medical issues, the most important thing is to remain open and supportive of that specific employee. Let them know that you are willing and able to provide accommodations for them to perform to the best of their ability. https://askjan.org/ is a great resource for both employees and employers if you have questions about workplace accommodations. Most importantly, remember to let the employee with the medical condition be the one in the driver’s seat, suggesting what they specifically need, and what would work best for them personally. Remind the employee that 21st Century EAP can be contacted to help them work through their feelings in the workplace as it relates to their medical condition, and to assist them in determining what supports they would find most helpful. The EAP can also be a valuable resource for managers who may not know how to support an employee with a chronic medical condition.