Valérie Fernandez

By Valérie Fernandez

February 12, 2019


Supporting an employee with a chronic condition

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines chronic diseases as “diseases of long duration and generally slow progression.” In other words, a chronic health problem (such as allergies, arthritis, hypertension, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer, diabetes…) persists for several months and requires medical attention, medication or treatments. There are so many “silent” conditions that can result in absenteeism and a decline in productivity. The economic impact on Canadians works out to about $122B. Yet, most of the time, these employees ask no more than to be able to offer their full potential. What can you do, as an employer, to support them?

Impact on daily life

Many chronic disease sufferers face obstacles throughout their day. Some see their abilities decline significantly, while others need medication or other treatments to relieve their symptoms during the day. Others still experience considerable fatigue. They often have to take time off to go for medical visits or simply because the pain is too intense. In an often fast-paced environment where workplace demands are high and where technology requires a high level of concentration, how are workers who suffer from a chronic disease able to keep up? By using adaptation measures that are respectful of their condition and reasonable for the employer.

Perception and reality do not align

According to the 2016 Sanofi Canada Healthcare Survey, nearly 60% of workers report suffering from a chronic disease. This means that about two-thirds of your employees are likely to have a medical condition that can impact their job performance and reduce their quality of life. It’s hard to imagine, right? You had no idea? You’re not alone. The same survey revealed that employers actually thought that less than 30% of their employees were suffering from a chronic disease.

Why such a discrepancy? Because workers are reluctant to tell their superior about their condition, out of a fear of being stigmatized and of losing their job. Consequently, their colleagues and manager were unaware of their situation and unable to make suggestions on how they could work to their full potential. Various actions could have been carried out to help them.

 Getting a snapshot of the situation

To implement measures suited to the variety of chronic conditions likely to affect your employees, you must be able to determine the quantity and quality of problems. And in order to determine the quantity, you need to have a clear insight into the situation. Therefore, before establishing policies and procedures, it is important to:

  • Initiate dialogue to increase awareness of chronic conditions and encourage employees to open up
  • Evaluate the nature of the chronic health problems experienced by employees
  • Review the existing policies, procedures, measures and methods likely to be deployed with regard to employees suffering from chronic health conditions.

Increase awareness among managers and colleagues

Once those things have been done, it is important to instill a culture of caring within your organization. Managers and employees must be made aware of the fact that some of their colleagues are suffering from often silent health conditions which cause them to be more fatigued and oblige them to take time off work. This step is necessary to, first of all, prevent the stigmatization of those for whom the burden of their chronic illness is already heavy to bear and to then motivate all concerned to have adaptive measures put in place.

In that regard, for employees suffering from a chronic disease, the ability to stay in the job depends, to a considerable degree, on their employer’s ability to demonstrate flexibility and a can-do attitude. Numerous initiatives may be carried out, such as:

  • Workspace design, for a chronic physical condition
  • Organization of working time: flex time, annualization of working time, etc.
  • Telework
  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Training for a more suitable job
  • Implementation of an advisory service focused on professional development.

Resources to help you

Legislation and the Charter of human rights and freedoms require employers to accommodate their employees to the point of undue hardship. In Quebec, the Commission des droits de la personne (human rights commission) offers a Reasonable Accommodation Advisory Service. If you need coaching when implementing an accommodation measure, you may avail yourself of that service.

Support personalized by La Capitale

La Capitale, through its VIVA program, has established a support program for self-management of chronic conditions in the workplace. This program is currently in the pilot project stage. With the support offered, employees participating in the program get the tools that will better equip them to take charge of their condition. The program consists of 12 sessions spread out over six months, during which a nurse interacts with the employee. The regular follow-ups are carried out easily from a user-friendly health monitoring platform.

Establishing practices that promote better integration of employees who are suffering from a chronic disease is a win-win! It enables an organization to keep its valued employees and makes it possible for these employees to offer the best of themselves. Many times, in addition to being easy to adopt and cost effective, adaptive measures create a more inclusive working environment. It’s good for everyone!

Want to encourage your employees to adopt healthy lifestyle habits?

Discover the VIVA workplace health and wellness program.

Visit our website

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