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Dr Zofia Bajorek

World IBD Day and how to raise the awareness of IBD in the workplace

Authors: Dr Zofia Bajorek

19 May 2015

Today is World IBD Day – a day to raise the awareness of IBD and what the implications of having the condition may be.  In January this year The Work Foundation released a report focussing on one specific aspect of IBD – work and career opportunities for those with IBD.  Now, I have to confess that before undertaking this piece of research, my awareness of IBD was limited – I had heard about Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis, but had not really thought about how such conditions manifested themselves, the full implications the conditions could have on the individual (both physically and psychologically), and what the implications of IBD could be for those seeking or in employment.  However, the participants in this study were so open and honest about their experiences of IBD and spoke so passionately and sometimes very emotionally about how IBD had influenced them socially and psychologically, and I came to understand just how much IBD can influence life and employment choices.  Most importantly however, I heard and recognised in these individuals true grit and determination when faced with this fluctuating, long-term chronic condition, and just how a few simple steps could help raise the awareness of IBD.

IBD has many hidden symptoms, and sometimes it may be difficult for the public to be aware that someone has this chronic condition.  However, the fluctuating and often embarrassing symptoms discussed, along with the common side-effects such as fatigue made the disorder sometimes very difficult to manage.  Additionally, the participants described how their self-esteem was also affected, some developed social anxieties for fear of having an accident in public, some vocalised a feeling of losing what could be described as a sense of ‘normality’.  Crucially for this report, many of these issues also had implications for their experiences at work, and we were interested in how this could be managed.

What became clear was that at work the role of the line manager and the employment relationship is key in helping an individual with IBD at work.  When participants described ‘good line management’ (sympathetic, understanding, having an awareness of IBD, positive communication and trust in the  line manager to be able to honestly discuss their IBD, any workplace adjustments and any other help needed) working with IBD was a positive experience.  Individuals felt safe in the knowledge that if they did have a flare they would not be discriminated against, and that there would be a culture of understanding within an organisation an individual would not have to become anxious about discrimination.  Crucially, an open and honest line management relationship enabled disclosure.  As IBD is a hidden condition, line managers may not even be aware that an employee has it.  Having a culture where individuals feel able to disclose means that not only can employers become more aware of the condition but they can also begin to put into place reasonable adjustments to help an employee remain in employment.

Both employers and employee recognised how awareness of IBD can be improved in the workforce:

  • Individuals can improve their own awareness of IBD and in conversation with other staff members raise awareness of IBD and the implications this can have on their own work.
  • Improved joined up practice between employers and healthcare professionals regarding best practice of managing IBD in the workplace and the provision of information about IBD, IBD and stress management to help reduce the implications that IBD can have on an individual’s work or social life.
  • Employers need to develop a trusting line management relationship so employees feel confident to disclose, so that they can understand how IBD affects an individual to allow for any reasonable adjustments to be made.
  • Employers and fellow co-workers also need to have an awareness of how IBD can affect work and overcome any misconceptions that those with IBD or other chronic conditions cannot work.
  • Other stakeholders such as Crohn’s and Colitis UK (who were discussed very positively throughout the research, and who were present at the launch of the report) have recommended that individuals and employers should refer to the comprehensive resources they have developed, whilst employers suggested that meetings/roadshows with employers about the support they could provide an organisation could be beneficial.

 

Dr Zofia Bajorek (The Work Foundation), Chris Evans MP and Helen Terry (Crohn's and Colitis UK) at the launch of our report on IBD and work

Dr Zofia Bajorek (The Work Foundation), Chris Evans MP and Helen Terry (Crohn's and Colitis UK) at the launch of our report on IBD and work.