How can employers do a better job of accommodating staff with chronic disease?

With an aging workforce and the large number of people over the age of 40 having at least one chronic condition, employers have an incentive to learn how to support their employees to remain active in the workforce.

That was the focus of a session presented by Karen Joudrey, academic program co-ordinator of the disability management certificate program at Dalhousie University’s school of occupational therapy, at the 2016 Chronic Disease at Work conference on June 22 in Toronto.

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An autoimmune disorder can become a disability if it causes a gap between what an employee can do and the performance demands on that person, said Joudrey. “In the workplace, it’s really important to understand and mitigate the impact of an autoimmune disorder at the disability level,” she said.

Joudrey said employers can help employees with autoimmune disorders manage their conditions and thereby boost their occupational performance.

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Joudrey offered suggestions for how employers could help employees manage their activities, relationships and treatment by helping them personally and in their jobs and environments. For example, she said employers can offer flexible scheduling, job-sharing or changes in work hours. Environmentally, employers can foster employee engagement, create an accepting management climate and target health promotion efforts. And personally, employers can offer benefits packages or drug plans, early intervention and policies to help staff attend specialist consultations and appointments.

Joudrey noted the Job Accommodation Network estimates that the cost of accommodations is typically very low at approximately $500 per employee with a disability.

Read: How to successfully reintegrate a returning worker from disability leave

Joudrey also highlighted the direct benefits of providing appropriate accommodation in the workplace because it allows companies to keep valued employees, increases productivity and gets rid of the cost of training a new person. The indirect benefits include improved interactions with co-workers and increased morale and engagement.

“Employers should think about: Are there innovative opportunities that are born out of compassion to support people with autoimmune disorders to self-manage, while still respecting the organization’s economic imperatives?” said Joudrey. “Can these two interests be win-win in the workplace?”

Read more from the Chronic Disease at Work conference