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Supporting employees with long-term health conditions

To truly build an inclusive culture, it is important to ensure that everyone feels safe, valued and supported at work. Those with long-term health conditions (also known as a chronic condition), are no exception. This refers to those with ongoing (mental and/or physical) health conditions that currently have no cure but are managed with medication and other treatments. Examples of long-term health conditions include heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, mental health conditions, and cancer. 

The onset, experience, and diagnosis (if relevant) of long-term health conditions vary with each individual; therefore, it is important to ensure you have the right structure in place to support employees with varying needs.

Why support those with long-term health conditions?

Not only is supporting these individuals the right thing to do, but this shows that you value your people and their wellbeing, and that everyone belongs to the organisation, regardless of any long-term health conditions they may have. This will not only allow these individuals to remain or return to work, but it will help you manage sickness and absence in a transparent, collaborative way, and cultivate an inclusive and positive workplace environment. Often those with long-term health conditions have multiple facets to their impacted wellbeing, with decreased mental wellbeing often a result of physical health conditions.  

Even with the best intentions, though, it is not always easy to support these employees, notes Kate Headley, spokesperson for the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative and director of consulting at the Clear Company: “Employers need to create an environment where employees have the confidence to share information about their health issues. We see a lot of employers who say they’ve asked but nobody responded.”

Policies to protect those with long-term health conditions

The Equality Act (2010) in the UK often qualifies people with long term (mental or physical) health conditions as having a disability, which protects them from discrimination and unfavourable treatment. Here, employers have a responsibility to make (reasonable) adjustments to adapt working practices or environments to support employees and job applicants with working at their best. Global legislation and frameworks vary, however policies and processes (such as adjustments) to facilitate the commitment to supporting individual needs can still be implemented via a centralised approach. 

How else can we support employees with long-term health conditions? 

  • Implement and promote Employee Assistance Programmes that are inclusive and accessible. 
  • Regularly review and update policies such as Sickness and Absence and Flexible Working policies to ensure they are supportive of all employees, for example, from being understanding of medical appointments to supporting employees with managing their long-term health conditions. 
  • Implement more informal processes to ensure those experiencing sudden onset of long-term health conditions are adequately supported and in a timely manner, for example, informal flexible working arrangements. 
  • Ask your employees what they need, and do not assume one adjustment fits everyone with long-term health conditions. 
  • Ensure your onboarding and induction and returners processes are supportive of those with long-term health conditions, for example, allowing for flexibility on start dates, ensuring the provision of suitable equipment and sufficient breaks. 
  • Train your line managers and leaders on how to support employees with long-term health conditions, and to maintain an empathetic and inclusive approach. 
  • Ensure ongoing, continuous conversations around wellbeing at work, identify if individuals are experiencing burn-out, and collaborate to identify appropriate solutions. 
  • Respect boundaries by ensuring the questions you ask are beneficial to employees, and to understand when individuals do not wish to share personal information.  
  • Be proactive in establishing and maintaining an inclusive, psychologically safe workforce, for example, being an ally if you witness inappropriate behaviour, as well as supporting colleagues with long-term health conditions to manage workloads alongside medical appointments.  
  • Do not make assumptions on an employee’s ability to carry out responsibilities on the basis of their long-term health condition(s).  

Long-term health conditions and D&I

 Many of the top tips above will transform the workplace experiences of all employees, not just those with long-term health conditions. In doing so, this will support and advocate for individuals with long-term health conditions to be supported and included in the world of work.  

 

For more resources and advice with supporting employees with long-term health conditions, please view the Employee Benefits article on supporting employees with long-term health conditions or contact the Clear Company for more advice.

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