Living with a chronic illness isn’t nice, employees may suffer from feelings of guilt in addition to being poorly so it is important that you support your employees whilst at the same time looking after your business interests. It’s a delicate balance which requires good communication from both sides, read on for our tips on managing chronic illness in the workplace.

What is a chronic illness?

A chronic illness is a medical condition that has usually been present for longer than three months. It may be a temporary illness or a long-term disease which must be managed by your employee.

supporting employees with chronic illnessA person suffering from a chronic illness may have to deal with taking medication, having treatments and managing pain. Obviously, this is an unpleasant situation for anybody to be in but some people may prefer or need to carry on being in employment, despite their health struggles. Lots of chronic illnesses can be managed so that the person who is ill can carry on with a normal life, providing they receive the right support. This includes support from employers.

Here are some common chronic illnesses:

  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • COPD
  • Crohn disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Diabetes
  • Mental health

The impact of chronic illness on a business

People living with chronic illnesses may need to take time off of work, for treatment or for periods when their conditions flare up. Aside from the impact this has your employee it does also affect your business.

Absence is a concern for every business and costs millions each year. Employees taking time away from work either for long periods or even just a couple of days can have an impact on colleagues, productivity and planning. Hence why it is important to properly manage and work with any employees that have chronic illnesses.


Preventing chronic illness

Before we move onto tips for managing employees with chronic illnesses, it is worth mentioning that some chronic illnesses can be caused by work. It is important to look after employee wellness and manage health and safety correctly to help prevent any of your employees becoming sick through their jobs.

Chronic illnesses caused by the workplace work can include muscular-skeletal issues, for example, back problems caused by incorrect seating, mental health problems related to stress, or breathing issues for those who may come into contact with chemicals or dusts.

Ensuring that the workplace is healthy in the first place and minimising the chances of chronic illnesses can be done in a variety of ways including:

  • Risk assessment, health and safety policies, and easy ways for employees to report work-related health or risk concerns.
  • Using a corporate health and wellbeing solution that enables you and your employees to take steps to care for their health and happiness.
  • Regularly engaging with employees about how to stay safe and healthy while at work and

As they say; prevention is better than the cure. Minimising the risk of chronic illness in the first place is better for your business and employees in the long run.

Tips for supporting employees with chronic illness and protecting your business

If any of your employees already have a diagnosed chronic illness or disability, it is really important to support and manage them correctly. For their benefit and that of your business and their colleagues.

supporting employees with chronic illnessHere are some of our top tips:

  1. Have an open conversation

It is really important that you have good, open communication with your employee. If they have a chronic illness which is likely to impact their job in some way, then you have a duty to be understanding and work with them on the matter and make any reasonable adjustments for them. Same goes for disparities, by law you must work with employees to come to an arrangement that works for both parties. Remember though; never ask more than you need to know. If an employee opens up about an issue, great. But don’t pry for information that isn’t relevant or won’t impact the way they work.

Once you have established how your employee’s health may impact the way they work, discuss what you can do as a business to help them. Are there any changes you can make that could reduce the risk of your employee becoming too ill to come to work, for example. What about a change of hours? Location where work takes place? There are a number of steps you can do to make things easier for your employee.


  1. Define the job description

When you and your employee have discussed what accommodations can be made to help support them, put together a job description that you both agree with. Can any duties that your employee cant do be swapped with a colleague for something for suitable? Ensure that you detail everything, including working hours and place of work. It is important that this is then reviewed regularly and updated to reflect your employee’s situation. Are they still capable of carrying out the duties listed or do further adjustment need to be made? In some cases, an employees health may actually improve and they may wish to take back over some of their old duties.

  1. Be open minded

When it comes to discussing your employee’s illness, remember to stay open-minded about possible solutions and ways that you can help support them.

Just because your business hasn’t done something before, doesn’t mean you can’t give it a go. Working from home, for example. There are solutions to most problems your employee may face, be creative when it comes to finding a fix. The same applies when talking to your employee about their situation; take the time to listen carefully to their problems and encourage them to make suggestions of their own.

  1. Negotiate

Be prepared to negotiate with employees about time off. If an employee needs time off for an appointment and they have taken off more time than your company allows for personal appointments then make arrangements for the employee to be given opportunity to make the time up or use personal allowance.

  1. Keep in touch

Chronically ill employees can often feel disconnected from the workforce or excluded. It is important that even in periods of absence, you make the effort to keep in touch with your employees. Obviously, not too much so as to come across like you are checking up or being intrusive but so that you know what the situation is and if they’re ok. You can also keep employees involved with what is happening at work if they wish to know. This can help people to feel less excluded.


Expert Health and Wellbeing Advice

Here at Wellspace we are experts at corporate health and wellbeing. If you would like more advice or to speak about our well-rounded corporate wellbeing programme give us a call on 0808 178 0748 or email and one of our team of experts would be happy to speak to you.