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Dr Zofia Bajorek

IBD at work: The employer’s perspective

Authors: Dr Zofia Bajorek

03 February 2015

When discussing the management of long-term conditions in the workplace, employers can come in for a rough time, with the perception that they are not doing enough to help employees with long-term conditions at work. Is this important? Well yes, by 2030 it is estimated that 40% of employees will have a long-term health condition, and so interventions at work will become crucial so that these employees can remain in employment?
But is the perception that they are not doing enough true?
In some situations, this may be the case, but The Work Foundation’s recent report: 'Working Well: Promoting job and career opportunities for those with IBD', highlighted areas of good practice where employers discussed interventions and policies they had in place to help employees with IBD (a fluctuating, chronic, long-term condition) to remain at work.

 Reasonable adjustments that were discussed in employer interviews included:

  • The provision of flexible working practices around working hours, where an employee works and their start and finishing times, which meant that when an employee was symptomatic they could work from home, in comfortable surroundings so they did not have to be embarrassed about their symptoms, and the variability in working hours meant they were more able to cope with side-effects related to IBD – especially fatigue.
  • Having appropriate facilities were seen as key, especially for IBD, a separate toilet and having easy access to the facilities were adjustments that employers could easily provide.
  • Some employers reported adjusting work expectations, changing the level of work that an employee is expected to complete especially when symptomatic (however, being able to effectively manage other team members was important so they were not overworked).
  • Introducing a buddy system where employees have a nominated buddy who is there to support the employee and be aware if something goes wrong – especially important when there are co-locations of offices, and line-managers are in another location.
  • Employers developing an understanding of the condition so that employers can have a greater awareness of what the employee is experiencing, and attempt to translate the medical terms into practice.
  • As the line management relationship was seen as crucial when managing IBD in the workplace, if a line manager was proving to be unsupportive, employers discussed that on a number of occasions line managers have been changed to provide the necessary support required.
  • Less frequent, but still applicable adjustments that have been used by employers also included redeployment and changes in office location dependent on the roles that an employee is able to complete and if there was an office location that was more suitable for the individual.

 If implemented, these reasonable adjustments could help employees with IBD enter and remain in employment however, it was clear that many barriers to employing individuals with long-term conditions are still faced.

The nature of some long-term conditions can be a huge barrier – and this was particularly the case IBD, as it is variable and fluctuating, so what may be a reasonable adjustment for one employee may not work for another, and the additional embarrassing symptoms can make the employee reluctant to disclose. This is where the employment relationship is key; if there is perceived trust between an employer and employee then disclosure will become easier, but this has to be displayed from both parties. Line managers cannot possibly know and understand every chronic condition that their employees may have, but if they display good management, then they must have trust that their employees will be willing to disclose so that discussions around reasonable adjustments can begin. This can be achieved through line-management training around how to manage long-term conditions in the workplace (which some employers in the report had found to be successful) and developing an organisational climate where stigma around long-term conditions is reduced so that awareness of such conditions, including IBD can be improved.

The report highlights that although the employers interviewed provided examples of good practice when managing IBD at work, it also reports that there is still some way to go to promoting job and career opportunities for those with IBD, but all stakeholders including the employee, the employer, healthcare professionals and policy makers have to work together to help those who want to and can work with IBD remain in employment.