The Best Strategies for Navigating Illness at the Workplace

Many people with chronic illnesses feel isolated from their coworkers. This can make them less likely to share their symptoms and work-related concerns with their manager or other leaders.

Having open and honest communication is key to creating a positive work environment for employees with chronic illness. This will help to discredit any negative perceptions that may exist and encourage people to be more comfortable talking about their condition at the office.

Be Honest

Being honest means being open and straightforward about your situation. It also involves not distorting the truth to avoid hurting someone or something, such as a person who falsifies their academic performance in order to get ahead, or an athlete who uses a banned substance. Honesty is a complex concept, and most people have their own moral code regarding how they should behave in various situations.

When you have a chronic illness, being honest about how it affects your work can be challenging. Not only do you have to worry about how to manage your symptoms, but you also have to deal with societal stigma that can hinder your career, from ignorant assumptions to discrimination. This can be particularly challenging in the workplace, where ableism is still prevalent.

While you may want to keep your illness private at work, it is essential to share information with your boss so that they can make accommodations to help you be as productive as possible. This includes telling them if your illness will make it difficult to meet deadlines or if you need to miss work due to a flare-up of symptoms. If you are unsure how to approach this conversation, it can be helpful to discuss the matter with a therapist who is skilled in helping people explore their honesty issues.

Sharing this information with your boss can be nerve-wracking, especially if you are worried about workplace discrimination. However, it’s worth remembering that employers are legally required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities.

For instance, many people with chronic illnesses benefit from flexible hours and working remotely to allow them to manage their symptoms while being able to focus on their work. Other options include allowing employees to leave early for medical appointments that are often held during standard nine-to-five business hours, and offering additional sick days if necessary.

It is also important to remember that not every accommodation will be practical or feasible, but you should listen to what your employee has to say and try to find a solution that works for everyone involved. If you have a question about whether or not an accommodation is legal, it’s worth consulting outside resources such as JAN, vocational rehabilitation experts, or disability-related organizations.

Don’t Work Beyond Your Limits

Whether due to the pandemic or a chronic illness, people need to learn to listen to their bodies and mind. Often, this means not pushing through work that might be too much for them. Working beyond your physical and mental limits can cause a lot of problems, including poor work quality and increased health risks. Putting work before your health is never worth it, regardless of whether you’re trying to prove something or just want to stay employed.

One of the biggest challenges that people with disabilities and chronic illnesses face is the fact that many employers still think of them as less valuable employees than those without disabilities. For example, a coworker might misinterpret your fatigue as laziness or your brain fog as lack of focus and productivity. This is why it’s important to make sure that you communicate your needs clearly, both in person and on the phone or through email.

If you need to leave the office frequently, explain why so that your coworkers are not confused or offended. And if you need to change your schedule, let your supervisor know and ask for help in finding a solution that works best for both of you. It’s also helpful to have a support system at work in the form of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and wellness initiatives.

As more and more employers embrace diversity in the workplace, I hope that people with disabilities and mental health issues will find it easier to let their managers know about their conditions without being stigmatized. It’s my dream that the day will come when letting your boss know you have a mental health condition is as normal as letting them know you have a heart condition or diabetes.

If you are managing employees with disabilities or mental health issues, it’s vital to make sure that your company has policies in place to support them. This includes having policies to offer flexible working and remote working, as well as making it clear that they are allowed to take time off from work if they need to. It’s also important to keep in touch with your staff, both in person and on the phone or via video conference when possible, so that they feel like valued team members and are not forgotten.

Find a Balance Between Work and Health

Keeping a healthy work-life balance is important for anyone, but it’s especially crucial for people with chronic illnesses. Striking a balance between the demands of career and personal life can help you manage stress levels, which can in turn improve your physical health. It also gives you time to focus on self-care, exercise and maintain a nutritious diet. There is also an available symptom tracker app that can help clients track their daily symptoms.

Having an active support system is also helpful for maintaining balance. Research suggests that people with stronger support networks are more resilient when dealing with illness and have better outcomes than those without a strong support network. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, reach out to your support network for advice and encouragement.

Employers can help by making employees feel comfortable about discussing their illness and promoting policies that are flexible enough to accommodate sick days. Some employers may even offer remote work options for employees with chronic conditions so they can complete their job responsibilities from home when necessary.

In addition to implementing workplace wellness programs, employers should make an effort to reach out to employees who are sick and check in on their health status. This will give them the opportunity to discuss their needs and concerns in a supportive setting and will let them know that they are valued team members who matter.

Providing education about the impact of health and work is another key element in a successful balance between work and health. This is one of the most common aspects of health interventions in the workplace and has been shown to positively influence the participation and retention of workers with chronic illnesses. Most of these educational interventions involve group discussion and one-on-one consultation or health coaching.

Finally, if you’re struggling to find a balance between work and your health, it might be time to look for a new job. There are a variety of reasons you might be in the wrong job, such as a toxic environment that doesn’t value employee well-being or a company culture that conflicts with your values. These mismatches can lead to burnout, which is detrimental to your mental and physical health.

Talk About Your Illness

Talking about your illness with co-workers and managers can help them understand what you’re going through. While it may feel uncomfortable at first, it’s important to be honest about your needs and how your condition affects you at work. For example, if you’re struggling with fatigue or insomnia, it’s important to let your boss know so that they can help make accommodations for you.

It’s also helpful to talk about your illness with a trusted co-worker who can support you and listen without judgement. Nguyen says she’s developed a small group of colleagues who are there for her when she needs someone to talk to, and it’s helped her navigate the challenges of her diagnosis. Another option is to join a support group for people with your disease, as this can be a great way to get coping tips and advice from others who have experience with the same thing. There are many groups out there that cater to different medical conditions, so it’s worth trying a few different ones before finding one you click with.

If you do decide to disclose your health condition, it’s a good idea to keep the conversation simple and direct. For example, instead of saying you have a mental health issue, it’s more appropriate to say you have fibromyalgia and that it causes you to be tired or unable to sleep at times. It’s also a good idea to double-check your company’s non-discrimination policies before you discuss your health status with your manager.

It’s important to remember that despite the stigma that persists around chronic illness, you can still have a fulfilling career in spite of your diagnosis.