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Supporting Long Term Illness and Disability in the Workplace

This is Deaf Awareness Week which hopes to raise awareness of the challenges and opportunities that people with hearing impairment encounter every day. The deaf and deafblind community has long been collaborating with the Government to tackle some of the problems that impact on them, including how they get better access to work and employment opportunities.

With a third of deaf people of working age, providing grants and delivering support for businesses to enable individuals to succeed and thrive in the work environment is vital.

Any long-term condition or extended period of illness can be challenging for businesses to cope with. Putting in the relevant procedures and accessing the tools that allow you to offer support for the individual concerned certainly makes a big difference.

For employees who have hearing issues this could mean help in applying for an Access to Work grant, installing software such as talk to text or developing deaf awareness skills among other staff. For other conditions, you may need to make ergonomic changes or introduce flexible working practices.

Each long-term medical case presents its own challenges. Someone who has been diagnosed with cancer and is hoping to return to work after treatment will have different needs to someone who has mobility problems due to a disability or faces access challenges because of a visual or hearing impairment.

Managing Long-Term Illness at Work

Long-term illness can cover a wide range of conditions. It could be physical such as a heart problem or cancer treatment, recovery from an accident or a gradually worsening condition such as multiple sclerosis (MS). An employee may have mental health issues such as depression or anxiety that will take a while to resolve and requires you to offer strong support that helps them either remain in work or get back to work.

Managing absence can put a strain on any business. Not only do you have to deal with the individual in a supportive and respectful way but you also have to arrange for their work to be undertaken by someone else. While long term illness only accounts for a small percentage of the individual instances of  sickness absence, it contributes to up to 40% of the total working time lost.

According to ACAS, having the right processes in place means that your business will need to:

  • Assess whether you have to get someone else in to do the work or whether you can cope for the moment.
  • Stay in contact with the employee and organise areas such as sick pay and sick notes.
  • Find out when a return to work is possible, whether you need to put in procedures and support that can facilitate this quicker and carry out a return to work interview.
  • Ensure that once an employee does return to work they are monitored and given the support they need, including using an occupational health service.

All this can be quite difficult for a business to manage effectively, especially when they don’t have a dedicated HR team in place who can handle most of these aspects. Making use of all the tools available is vital. Taking advantage of an occupational health service, for example, makes sense when you are dealing with long-term sickness and absence. A dedicated OH team will be able to put in a sensible and sensitive return to work and monitoring strategy that can save your company in terms of time and money.

Most people with a long-term illness want to return to work and get back to normal as quickly as possible. For some that might mean simply waiting until they are well again. For others, it could require putting in support in the workplace that enables them to do their job again. For example, someone who has suffered from a stroke and now has a disability may need help with getting around the office or specialist equipment to enable them to use a pc or other hardware.

Supporting Staff with Long-Term Medical Conditions

The initial return to work process is only part of helping people with long-term conditions in your business. Regular monitoring by an OH service can help make sure that the individual is getting all the support they need while in work. Technology is helping many businesses do this. It’s developing all the time and bringing new tech on board can have a significant impact on wellbeing and performance.

With the right support and environment, there’s no reason why any person with a long-term medical condition shouldn’t be able to thrive and contribute to the success of your business.

Useful Organisations

If you want to get involved in Deaf Awareness Week, check out #deafawarenessweek on social media and see if there’s an event taking place near you.


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