Organisations need to increase training for leaders and managers so they can better support employees with long-term health conditions, according to research by Astriid.
The survey revealed that 89% of respondents believe line managers and senior staff members could be better informed about managing people with long-term health conditions.
“Business leaders and HR professionals have educated themselves on other key people issues, such as mental health and race, but disability is a bit of a black hole,” said Camilla Faith, HR Director for Grosvenor Estate, an international property business.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, only 32% of organisations provide training and guidance for line managers as part of their approach to managing people with disabilities or long-term health conditions.
This lack of education means misconceptions and prejudices can thrive in workplaces – especially when it comes to energy-limiting chronic illnesses (ELCI), such as ME, cystic fibrosis and fibromyalgia. A report by Chronic Illness Inclusion found that 55% of people with ELCI had been disparaged as not having a ‘real disability’, while 70% said they had encountered the attitude that they ‘shouldn’t make a fuss’ about their difficulties.
“We need to change people’s attitudes by having more people in work with chronic illness. We need to show them by example and by exposure,” said Victoria Clutton, who is an Ambassador for Astriid, a charity that seeks to connect people with long-term health conditions with meaningful work.
Empathy highlighted as top training requirement
Organisations can help to change attitudes in the workplace by embracing a range of education activities. For example, Grosvenor plans to set up a disability community and appoint subject matter experts to help increase awareness.
“Instead of telling people how to behave, we want to encourage conversations between colleagues by sharing stories and research studies,” explained Camilla. “We want people to think about how they would like to be treated if they had a disability or chronic health condition.”
More than half of the Astriid survey respondents recommended increased training for business leaders and line managers with an emphasis on empathy and active listening. Key training themes included: improving awareness of ‘invisible’ illnesses and how they impact different people; tackling unconscious bias and promoting equality; and offering practical support to manage health conditions in the workplace.
Providing managers with better policies and greater guidance
Although training can be a powerful tool for changing people’s mindsets, organisations also need to update their processes and policies to encourage a broader culture shift. Only 50% of organisations have established fair and inclusive absence and performance policies and practices to help manage people with disabilities and long-term health conditions.
“A lot of organisations have developed anti-discrimination policies but provide limited advice around disability,” commented Camilla, who is also an Astriid trustee. “Disability encompasses many different things, so there needs to be specific guidance – especially around making reasonable adjustments.”
Greater training and better policies can make a real difference not only to workplace attitudes but also employees’ wellbeing. Nearly 90% of people with ELCI believe that their quality of life would be better if people understood and took account of how their condition impacts them.
“We’ve had the Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements. We now need the same for people with disabilities and long-term health conditions,” said Camilla. “We need to be talking about the people that want and need to work but are currently being excluded or suppressed.”
This article was written by Helen Guyatt, a journalist, and storyteller. She has been writing about business and IT trends for more than 20 years for a range of publications and corporate clients. Helen often trades her keyboard for a baking bowl and enjoys making (and eating) copious amounts of cake. She is passionate about highlighting social and sustainability issues to help make the world a better place to live in.