The Importance of Having an Understanding Employer with a Chronic Illness

I’m extraordinarily fortunate in my career. Along side a genuinely interesting job that I enjoy, I get to experience some of the best restaurants in London, attend incredible events and even go to fun nights out like crazy golf and indoor sky diving. Plus I’ve raised over £10k for charity, I’m a mental health first aider and I’m part of a team of people who plan fun events for the company.

But that’s not what I’m grateful for. I have an employer who understands. Working whilst having Fibromyalgia is no easy task and I know a lot of people who sadly just aren’t well enough to do so. I was one of those a few years ago, and after throwing absolutely everything I have in to fighting my illness, I finally ended up in the role I’m in now. But Fibromyalgia has no cure, so whilst I’m well enough now to be able to work, it takes a lot to maintain this level of health and my employer is exceptionally understanding of this.

I often have weeks that look like this:

  • Monday – Chiropractor
  • Tuesday – Sports Massage
  • Wednesday – Pain Clinic
  • Thursday – Cryotherapy

That’s a lot of appointments to have in a week! Now whilst the pain clinic is often the only one that means I have to be a little bit late to work, my employer doesn’t question me when I leave early, get in a little late, or let them know that I have yet another hospital appointment. I kid you not, since being in my current role I’ve had my tonsils out, slipped my disc, had three spine procedures, a laparoscopy for Endometriosis, I’ve fallen down stairs, messing up my ankle and last year I broke my collarbone. Even I roll my eyes when something else happens, but my employer doesn’t act like I’m the nuisance I often feel that I am.

Recently I’ve had a few people reach out to me to ask about how my employer deals with my illness and I just didn’t even like the term. My employer doesn’t ‘deal’ with me. They’re very accepting of me, they’ve given me opportunities I didn’t think I’d ever get and they’re willing to be flexible.

But it’s often others who are suffering who ask me this question and along with it often comes heartbreaking stories. Employers who are accusing sufferers of lying, calling people out for attending appointments, even trying to get people fired. The last thing a person battling a chronic illness needs is an employer who discriminates against them or makes life difficult. Life is already extremely hard when your battling your own body, and added stress makes it so much worse.

So here’s the key things I believe every employer should offer to support those with chronic illnesses:

  • Compassion – I’m going to start with this one because, to me, it’s the most important. Imagine how you would feel if you’d had life as you know it taken from you. You can’t do the things you used to do with the ones you love and every second of every day is tainted with pain and fatigue. Now imagine dealing with that whilst your employer makes you feel like a burden and like you’re not doing enough when you’re doing absolutely everything you can. It’s just not nice okay? It’s not right. Even if you can’t be flexible as an employer, treat people with respect.
  • Working from home – I often leave work around 3pm with my laptop and finish the rest of my working day at home. Sitting at my desk all day can really aggravate my back so some days it’s just better for my body to go home and work from my bed. I can still do every part of my job from home, it’s just an environment where I can be in less pain because I can lay down. I’ll also often work from home on a Wednesday in Winter just to give my body a rest in the middle of the week as it’s a really tough time of year for me pain wise
  • Sick leave – I get 20 sick days pay a year, which just eases my stress knowing that I can let my body rest when I’m having flare ups, I’m not well or my body finds another excuse to need surgery without worrying about paying bills and funding my treatments. We might not even need all of the sick days, it’s just not having the stress of worrying about what would happen if we do!
  • Flexible working hours – I adjusted my working hours from 9:30 – 5:30 to 9 – 5. This meant that I could get a seat on the train so wouldn’t have to stand and that I didn’t have to keep leaving work early to make it to appointments. Win/win for everyone really isn’t it!
  • Be understanding of appointments – because honestly they’re way more annoying for us. I couldn’t tell you the amount of times I’m poked and prodded by specialists and therapists. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of being sick. The last thing someone then needs is to be made to been like a burden for it. These appointments are necessary to keep us going, so be considerate 🙂
  • Learn about your employee’s illness – it’s often a lack of education around an illness that can cause an issue. When I say I have Fibromyalgia, most people ask me what it is as they’ve never heard of it. Imagine the fire you’d light under an employee who is struggling (because every one of us is struggling every single day) if their employer learned about their illness and even asked genuine questions about it and how they could help – how much that would mean to them. Knowledge is power for everyone.

A person with a chronic illness is still perfectly capable of doing their job. Yes, a little extra flexibility will be needed, but if an employer looks after their employees, it just makes the world better for everyone. Don’t write us all off.

Zoë Louise Mason x

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