With the great resignation still happening across the UK, businesses are looking at how they can retain employees and keep them happy. It’s predicted that up to one-fifth of the UK Workforce will leave their jobs this year. Losing employees has a huge impact on organisations. It costs a lot of money in recruitment and training, plus there is the cost of losing skills and knowledge. It can also impact on team morale and productivity. Therefore, focusing on retaining staff has to be a priority for business at this time.
Many organisations are looking at rewards and benefits as a way of retaining employees, believing that most people are leaving in order to enhance their salary and improve their lives. However, have you considered that there might be another reason that some employees are leaving your organisation?
The fact is that chronic illness affects many employees and if they aren’t receiving the right support and if they feel that their work is negatively affecting their health, they will look elsewhere or even consider leaving the workforce altogether.
With one in three people of working age in the UK living with at least one chronic health condition, it is a huge issue and one that is growing, particularly with so many people now living with long covid. It is believed that 1 million people in the UK are currently living with long covid, a high percentage of whom will be of working age. In fact, there are currently 2.5 million people in the UK not working at all due to long term sickness.
Chronic Illness can affect any of us and it can start at any part of your life. 80% of disabilities are acquired by people of working age, so this means that anyone in your organisation can be affected by this.
Chronic illness is defined as a health condition that is persistent and long lasting in its effects. These conditions are often incurable. The person living with the condition may well need ongoing medical appointments and treatment and it is likely that it will affect their day to day lives. Many chronic illnesses are also energy limiting conditions which means that they cause exhaustion and any exertion can have a disproportionate effect on energy levels.
There are many conditions that are classed as chronic illnesses and they include conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease, Chronic Fatigues Syndrome, PoTS Syndrome, Heart Disease, Anxiety and Depression, Cancer and Fibromyalgia. These conditions all have different symptoms and it is also important to note that the same condition may affect people in many different ways.
Legally, many chronic illnesses can be classified as disabilities and employees living with these conditions will be protected under the Equality Act 2010. This means that employers must make reasonable adjustments for employees and job applicants to ensure that they are not discriminating against them.
Creating a culture where people are empowered to request the support that they need is key to providing an inclusive and equal environment. Starting the conversation and showing that there is acceptance and support available will make a big difference to the lives of those affected.
Lots of organisations are doing great work supporting employees with chronic illnesses, but it is worth assessing whether there is anything else that can be done. Often, adjustments can be relatively small, but most importantly there is a need for employees with chronic illnesses to feel that they are being listened to and supported.
Many employees don’t disclose that they are living with health conditions to their employees. There is also a large reluctance to admit that they are struggling with their work as a result of their conditions and in need of support. There are many reasons for this, but they include concern about being judged; fear of missing out on promotion; worried about being perceived as having a weakness; concerned about being seen as making excuses; and believing that there is nothing their employer can do to support them.
However, there are plenty of steps that employers can take to provide support for employees living with chronic illnesses. Firstly, companies need to create a culture of acceptance and understanding for people with chronic illnesses. Raising awareness of chronic conditions and having open conversations about how they can support employees will empower people to ask for adjustments where needed. Creating an environment where people feel that they can ask for support to do their job without fear of judgement is positive for all employees whether they have a chronic illness or not.
This culture of understanding and support of people living with chronic illnesses needs to come from senior management and filter down through an organisation. There are many steps an employer can take to support their employees including workshops raising awareness and encouraging support from the wider team as well as mentoring for those living with chronic illnesses and their managers.
The benefits to providing a supportive working environment for employees living with chronic illnesses are immense. When employees feel that they are able to get the support and encouragement that they need, they will remain loyal to an organisation, preferring to stay where they feel supported rather than move to another organisation where they are not certain of the support provided. Creating an open and positive workspace will encourage staff retainment, reduce long term sick leave and improve team morale. It really does make sense for businesses to focus on increasing support for employees living with chronic illnesses.
If you would like to learn more about how I can advise organisations on how they can better support employees with chronic illnesses, please get in contact