What Businesses Can Do to Support Employees With Serious Health Challenges

Every employee misses work from time to time. But for the 133 million Americans who live with chronic health conditions, getting to work each day can be a significant challenge. Many people go to work on days that they need rest or extra care, even though their productivity and quality may suffer. Some employees go to work even when ill because they don’t want to get behind or put undue stress on the rest of the team. Of course, for many workers with chronic conditions, taking a day off isn’t financially feasible. 

Employees with chronic health conditions can create challenging situations for employers. You may wonder what questions you can legally ask them about their illness. Many employers even question if you have the right to track an employee’s location just to make sure their explanation for absences checks out. Trying to maneuver through the legalities of workers with chronic conditions and still act from a place of compassion and empathy can be difficult. However, showing support for those living with chronic conditions can actually boost your overall company morale and minimize turnover.


If you are looking for a few ways to support your employees, here are four strategies you can use to in your workplace today. 


Put Yourself in Their Shoes

If you have ever been around someone with a chronic illness, you know that they will have good and bad days. They may suffer from physical symptoms that can range from annoying to debilitating. Many will even experience mental health issues such as anxiety or depression that often comes with chronic illness. As your employees use sick days, they may start to worry about the status of their long term employment, eligibility for raises or promotions, and having to use vacation days to cover their illnesses.


You must try to understand the unique needs of staff who have a job and chronic illness. If it is a new condition, they may not disclose their health problems to you right away, and that’s okay. They may also prefer to speak directly to HR rather than with a shift supervisor or manager. You must know your employee’s right to Family Medical Leave Act policies and procedures. If you are unsure if they are aware of the policy, give them a copy or refer them to HR if absences start to be a problem.


Show Empathy

Employees with chronic illness know that there are policies and rules around absences. Most of them will even anticipate having a few awkward conversations with their manager or supervisor. However, what they don’t want to deal with is someone who shows no empathy or compassion for their situation. To show your support, you can encourage your staff to pursue the care and support they need both physically and emotionally outside of work. A few ways you can do this is to:

●  Encourage their involvement in a support group.

●  Participate in drives, walks, or other fundraising events in their honor.

●  Create a plan for their work on days they won’t be in the office.

●   Develop a support system in the office in case an acute health situation arises.

●   Offer alternative schedules such as part-time, job share, or work from home.


Treat Every Employee as a Unique Person

Learning how to manage the talent you have in your office  is far less challenging than replacing them. This is true for those with complicated health histories, too. Each day that their desk goes untouched, you might start to wonder what possibilities you have to replace them altogether. However, it is critical to recognize the unique needs of each employee and work to empower and support them in any way possible. This might mean moving staff around to different jobs, cross-training some roles, or even creating another position that you hire for internally. These strategies give you extra support on teams where you know some staff may be out for illness.


Keep Open Lines of Communication

Staff members who are out of the office for extended periods often worry about being replaced. It’s essential that you keep the lines of communication open with these team members at all times. This might mean sending a text or email weekly to check on them and ask if they need anything. You can also encourage them to give you any feedback about changes you make specific to their role while they are out.


You may also decide to get a small group of staff together to stop by the hospital during an inpatient stay or drop off dinner through the week after work. Any way that you can keep the lines of communication open will help you better understand their needs and abilities when they are going through an exacerbation of their chronic condition.


Helping Staff and Keeping the Company’s Goal in Mind

It’s essential to invest in your staff. You also have to keep your eyes focused on company goals. Taking a thorough inventory can be an excellent first step when tidying up your business during times of low staffing related to chronic illness. Once you get a clear plan in mind, use these tips to connect with every employee, especially those with chronic conditions.


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