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Let’s Talk… Chronic Health Diversity in the Workplace

I have psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.

Chronic conditions which, whilst they don’t stop me from working the standard 9 to 5, do mean I have various doctors and hospital appointments. In fact, in April alone I have five hospital appointments to attend. Luckily, my boss is a champion of health diversity. Together we have found a way that I can attend appointments without using holidays, feeling guilty or getting ‘the look’.

And when I say luckily, I mean I am in a very lucky and fortunate position. Most people don’t have that.

We talk about mental health and disability diversity in the workplace, but recently I have come to think, what about people with “invisible illness”? What about people with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTs), fibromyalgia, IBS and all the other conditions that we can’t see?

Where is the diversity and flexibility for so many people with these conditions? They create freelance careers because so many employers don’t accommodate or offer flexible solutions to people who need to attend multiple appointments a week or a month. Or in some cases, can’t get out of bed that day due to pain and fatigue. Working 9 to 5 doesn’t always work for them because they use so many of their spoons to get out of bed, never mind spending a full day at work. (If you haven’t read about the spoons theory, you can do so here).

So many employers talk about flexible working and being accommodating which in theory is fantastic. Yet, in practice and reality, it’s almost non-existent. It’s fine for the first few appointments, but when it comes to asking for the third or fourth appointment that month, you start to see the look of “really another one?” and begin to feel guilty about taking time to ensure you are as healthy as you can be and are taking care of yourself.

For me, being able to work a four-day week would be heaven – and my employer is incredibly accommodating! I could work during the week and alternate my ‘day off’ around my appointments. This would ensure I take care of myself but I also don’t miss important meetings. I could have a career and look after my health, not one or the other. I would lose the guilt of asking for time off to attend appointments or the feeling of having to choose my health over job security.

Or what about the possibility of having remote working? Even if that was one day a week that you could take flexibly. Why do we have to be in the office, 9 till let’s face it closer to 6 than it is 5 these days? Remote working could allow those who struggle to get out of bed some days to work from bed, as and when they could.

These changes and flexibility would give the opportunity to so many without the worry or ‘the look’ that can come with asking for repeated time off. Plus, these changes wouldn’t only benefit those with chronic conditions. It would benefit working parents or your employee with a passion project. In fact, I don’t see any negatives to introducing this way of flexible working for all.

What changes would you like to see in the workplace?

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