Managing chronic illness and/or disability in any space is daunting, but the workplace can be particularly tricky to navigate. As someone with a chronic illness and disability, I wanted to share my employee experience and hopefully impart some advice.
*At the bottom of this page is a downloadable guide for you to give to your employer.*
This can help an employee get confident when approaching the subject and an employer to see what it’s like from our P.O.V.
Your body, your choice.
You don’t have to tell the company the ins-and-outs of your condition if you don’t want to. If you feel the details are too personal, it’s your right to keep that close to your heart.
Contrary to the above, if you feel brave enough to talk about it, you can speak to a line manager, HR or someone in the team you trust. As everyone knows, I’m very open about my condition and find it’s a good way to help people understand.
So when is the right time to tell?
My blog and social media is on my CV. It’s the reason I got into my profession. The companies I’ve worked for have been aware about my condition from day one.
There isn’t a right or wrong time to chat about it. However, if you were in an emergency situation and needed their help, it can be best to disclose it to a member of the team or HR for your safety. Think about what setting is right for you – whether it’s a formal meeting or over lunch or even an email, and go from there.
Being diagnosed with a condition doesn’t make you less desirable.
Chronic illness can inspire confidence, empathy and resilience. I think that all sounds pretty positive to an employer.
Hospital trips keep you alive.
I used to get anxious about having to go to hospital. Until I realised, hospital trips,
1. Keep me alive
2. Aren’t normal for healthy people
3. Are the reason I can do my job
Having to go to hospital, doesn’t mean you’re skipping work. Hospital trips are normal for me and I forget they’re not for healthy people. When someone hears the word ‘hospital’ they don’t automatically think you’re bunking off. Communicating far enough in advance that you are undergoing monthly treatment, tests or appointments; with an idea of how long they take; can help to manage your workload and work out what is achievable.
*The downloadable document at the bottom will explain more on how to go about this.*
Communicate how they can help you.
If you need allowances to help managing your workload, voice that. It’s all well and good, mentioning IBD but if I didn’t communicate my iron deficiency or stoma bag, how could they understand what I was going through. If your hospital is nearer home and you need to WFH before or after, ask if that’s possible. There is no harm in asking!
If they don’t support you, maybe it’s not right for you.
You wouldn’t stay with a partner who was rude, nasty or difficult about your condition. So why stay at a company who don’t support you?
Think about the ways they can help you.
It’s likely an employer won’t fully understand your illness; unless they have it or have seen it first hand. This means they’ll usually say:
“Just tell us how we can help you.”
I hadn’t thought about how they could help me and was too afraid to ask. Have a think before you start, about the things that would help manage the illness and workload. Coming armed with questions or ideas is bold, but can be a good way for them to understand.
Get armed with information.
It can be good to print out information leaflets via your condition charity website or NHS website and giving them to your line manager, HR or team. Crohn’s and Colitis UK offer information packs for employers on how to support their employees through treatment.
I have created a word document below as a guide to organise any information about your condition when starting a new job, or in your current employment. As a way to help them understand.
Download it below: