Being an inclusive employer for people with long-term health conditions has many benefits to an organisation, its employees and the wider economy.
Why is it important to be an inclusive employer?
- Workplaces are missing out on accessing talented individuals who want to work but due to their long-term health conditions find it difficult to fit into the expected 9-5 working pattern. These individuals often have many desirable attributes that come from living with a chronic condition, as well as having a good education behind them.
- We have an ageing workforce in the UK with a third of workers aged 50 or over and our life expectancy is slowly increasing. People need to be able to stay in work for longer but at the moment they are having to leave work earlier than they would choose due to their health. This is detrimental to the economy. Over 44% of individuals aged 50-64 have a long-term health condition. Changes need to be implemented to retain older employees. Not just because of the economic implications but also because they have so much to be valued by companies – such as a lifetime of experience and skills, and a strong work ethic.
- Flexible workplaces benefit everyone. Adjustments made to the workplace do not only benefit people with a long-term condition but also working parents and potentially all employees work-life balance.
- Productivity and engagement of the general workforce is directly improved. By being able to see the way that their company is supporting those with long-term conditions, it helps give employees reassurance that if something should happen to them in the future that they would have their needs supported too.
Examples of long-term health conditions
- Myalgic encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (M.E/CFS)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Mental health conditions
The scale of the problem
- There are 15 million people living with one or more long-term health conditions. This equates to 1 in 3 working age people.
- Whilst some people who have a chronic condition will not be well enough to be in employment, a large majority of individuals are (with the right support and adjustments).
Busting myths on employing people with long-term health conditions
Although it can be uncomfortable to admit, we all hold varying beliefs about other people and sometimes these assumptions aren’t based on reality. The top three myths that people hold about employing people with long-term health conditions and the evidence that proves they are not accurate, may surprise you!
Top 3 Myths
- Individuals with chronic conditions will have to take significantly more time off sick than those without a chronic condition.
False: The evidence suggests this is not true – the number of days lost through sickness per worker in 2020 was 7.3 days a year for those with a chronic condition compared with 2.1 days for those without one. This slight variation is to be expected in view of the additional challenges workers with long-term conditions face with their health.
- Employing someone with a long-term health condition will mean lots of additional costs.
False: The Access to Work scheme is funded by the Government and gives workplaces a grant to be used for any adaptations. Most changes that are required will not cost anything – for example, being able to work from home and have flexi-hours as an option.
- People with a health condition will not be capable of carrying out the role.
False: Just because someone has a chronic condition does not make them incapable. Individuals are unlikely to apply for a job in the first place unless they were confident that they could fulfil the necessary requirements. You would still interview and select them on their skills as you would with any other employee.
Transferable skills that living with a chronic condition may bring
If we step away from focusing on the negatives of living with long-term illness and reflect on the skills that individuals develop simply by managing their condition, we see many of the transferable skills that businesses so desperately need.
- Time management skills
- Problem solvers
Changing society’s perception of meaningful employment
Walking a different path from the majority of society isn’t always easy, but just because someone isn’t working a 35-hour week doesn’t mean that their contribution of working isn’t equally as valuable. There are so many benefits for individuals to being employed and everyone deserves the right to access these.
Benefits of working:
- Part of a team
- Improving emotional wellbeing
What can be done for workplaces to be more accommodating for people with long-term health conditions?
It might surprise you to learn about the different ways that workplaces can help people with chronic conditions into work and that many of these adaptations either do not cost anything or there are grants available to help cover additional costs.
- Working from home pre-covid was a big barrier that individuals with chronic conditions would often come up against. One positive that has come out of the pandemic is how companies have seen how remote working can be just as effective as being office-based. This has opened up many opportunities for people with long-term conditions.
- Flexible working and removing set hours is of utmost importance for being able to accommodate individuals with long-term health conditions. As reported in our previous blog piece on flexible working, an advantage is that it can be ‘beneficial for the management of long-term or chronic health conditions’. As many conditions fluctuate, it allows people to be able to work when they feel well enough – whether this be within the more traditional 9-5 working hours or in the evening/weekends.
- (Very) Part-time jobs or job shares between multiple employees are both options that need to become the norm, as the majority of part-time jobs advertised are still for 20+ hours which for many people with chronic conditions is just not manageable. One option could be to make a job share that is covered by 3 or 4 people, rather than the usual split of just 2 people. This would allow each person to work fewer hours and create dynamic teams!
- Individual needs assessment to find out what their needs are should be a priority as a one-size-fits-all plan will rarely accommodate every single person. This can help break down any barriers that may be in the way of them performing to the best of their ability and help increase understanding from their employer.
- Small considerations in an office environment. If working from home isn’t possible, then there are various adaptations that can be put in place in a work environment. Having a reserved parking space close to the office will help an individual preserve energy. Allocating a quiet space where individuals can go for rest breaks or even a short nap will increase productivity.
- Assistive technology programmes might be beneficial for individuals with long-term conditions. For example, software that transcribes speech or reads text out loud could be especially helpful for people who have pain when typing or who find reading from a screen tiring.
An Employer and Employee Story
Cheryl Isaacs an occupational psychologist who is one of Thrive4Life’s key speakers and the director of OPM Consulting Ltd which specialises in behavioural and performance psychology, has lived experience of employing her PA, Hannah Emery who has long-term health conditions. They are a living example of how employing someone with long-term health conditions can work out well for both parties.
Handy tips for employers and employees:
- Communication and honesty are key. This helps manage expectations and increase understanding between employer and employee.
- Start with fewer hours and then build them up (if able).
- Include a variety of tasks so the individual with a chronic condition can have some work to do that isn’t so taxing at times when they aren’t feeling their best.
- Be mindful that someone with a long-term condition may be quite low in confidence and need some positive feedback (when justified) to help increase this.
- Health conditions can be fluctuating and invisible. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
Practical Suggestions and Next steps
What can your company do to make your workplace more inclusive and help those with long-term conditions into employment?
- Consider if there are any roles that could be shared in a job share with ‘very’ part-time hours so that they are more accessible.
- Advertise roles that have part-time hours (such as 5 or 10hrs a week) that can be worked flexibly and from home.
- Start an individual in a voluntary role to begin with to see how it goes for both parties, with the aim to employ them when they are ready.
- Make job descriptions and interviews more long-term condition ‘friendly’.
- Make it the norm to have a works needs assessment for new joiners with long-term conditions to ensure they are able to work to their full potential from their outset.
How Thrive4Life can help!
Thrive4Life can provide customised Line Manager training as well as MHFA and Wellbeing Champion training. We offer health promotion in the form of an extensive library of engaging content with well-designed articles / ePublications and monthly specialist talks on all aspects of health and wellbeing.
For companies who are looking for support with a strategy and ongoing process of health and wellbeing engagement that they can build over time, Thrive4Life has used a backdrop of over 30 years’ experience of delivering specialist health, safety and wellbeing guidance across multiple industries to develop an innovative, cost-effective solution that can help any size of organisation in the form of a fully customisable Health and Wellbeing Discovery Hub.
For more information about Thrive4Life services and training courses, get in touch or call us on 020 8972 9675.