Careers Advice Blog

Working with an employee who has an invisible illness

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With so many qualified and talented job seekers to choose from, employers are looking for candidates who go above and beyond their specified hours, fit effortlessly into the corporate culture and are willing to tackle tasks that may not be part of their job description. Having a chronic pain condition can make coping with the demands of the office more of a challenge. Because of the stigma surrounding invisible illnesses, it isn’t always easy to disclose such information. For those too nervous to explain themselves, here are a few things that those with such conditions may like their employers to know.

Employees may not initially disclose their conditions

It can be difficult to talk about at the best of times, but the issue is even more delicate at work. New hires want to impress you with their strengths, not reveal potential weaknesses.

If they do inform you, it may be difficult to get proof

The road to diagnosing chronic pain is long, rocky and doesn’t always reach a conclusion. Because of the amount of symptoms, it can be difficult to reach a consensus with a medical professional, especially when appointments for long term health conditions can be months apart.

There’s often more to conditions than the physical

Mental health and physical health are connected. The link can work both ways, often those with chronic pain can be more prone to mental health difficulties, and those with mental health conditions can be more prone to chronic pain. Neither are easy to diagnose or discuss. Both are misunderstood.

Like everyone, they have good and bad days

The pain may not happen all the time. Some conditions can lay dormant but flare up. What employees are willing to do may change. They may be able to work overtime or do physical labour one week, but unable to so the next. Those with invisible illnesses need to carefully consider how what they do effects their bodies and minds otherwise they could end up not being able to work at all.

Integrating into corporate culture can be a challenge

Many workplaces now emphasise the importance of spending time with the team outside of work and taking part in socials, but this is not always possible for those with long-term conditions. Drinking, for example, can be a challenge – especially without disclosing the nature of the medications they may be taking. Just because they don’t stay after work for a beer doesn’t mean they’re not interested in building relationships with co-workers, they may just need to go about it in a different way.

Having a chronic condition is not laziness

Being in pain every day but wanting to work and lead as normal a life as possible means those with chronic conditions have to carefully calculate when to rest. Often when they take sick days it’s because they’ve reached their limit and have previously resisted resting when they should have. It’s better to take one day off to recover than not be able to work at all. Sometimes, those with a chronic condition are still capable of doing work, but not in the office, and often will be more than happy to contribute from home if you let them.

Understanding is key

As an employer, you don’t need to know all of the intimate details, but having an open discussion about the effect conditions have on work can lead to compromises that get the best out of your employee.

Do you have an invisible illness? What are your tips for employers? Tell us in the comments below.

Photo: Keoni Cabral / Flickr

Gabe HurstWorking with an employee who has an invisible illness

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