In the UK, an estimated 9.5 million people live with an invisible disability, with one in seven having to manoeuvre their condition alongside work commitments. However, many employers either fail to take the correct steps towards dealing with these conditions, or don’t know about them at all.
Prioritising the needs of employees with invisible disabilities will not only improve the reputation and productivity of the workplace overall, but also decrease staff turnover, and create a much more positive environment for all members of staff.
What is an invisible disability?
There are many types of invisible disabilities out there, such as: autism, mental health, Crohn’s, colitis, epilepsy, and more. Some people may not always feel comfortable discussing their condition, as often the effects on their daily lives are difficult to understand. As a result, many employees may feel they cannot or do not know how to ask for adjustments and support at work.
There is no cure for conditions such as Crohn’s and colitis, which cause ulcers and inflammation in the gut. The symptoms that come with these conditions include frequent need to go to the toilet, often with blood in their stools, pain, and extreme fatigue.
This often requires a lifetime of medication, and sometimes life-altering surgery. Not only is living with a condition such as this debilitating physically, but it can also impact personal relationships and mental health.
The stigma surrounding discussions of this nature is still very much evident. It may be that an employee is embarrassed to discuss this with their employer, for example, so they find it easier to hide it.
What can employers do?
First and foremost, education is key. As an employer, it’s important to educate staff on invisible disabilities, sparking a conversation, as well as implementing work policies to support those who may be managing an invisible condition alongside their work.
The pandemic has provided many opportunities for flexibility in the workplace, such as remote and hybrid working, which has largely benefited those with invisible disabilities for a variety of reasons.
How does flexible working help?
During the pandemic, remote and flexible working became the new normal for employers and employees across the world. For those living with invisible disabilities, it provided the opportunity to better manage their health in the comfort of their own home.
As many of us prepare to return to the workplace in a post-Covid world, it’s important for employers to take their employees’ needs into consideration, making the effort to focus on whether they feel supported enough to return to the workplace, or if further changes need to be made to accommodate them.
As well as helping people manage their conditions more efficiently, flexible working also benefits the management of medical appointments, that often fall during working hours. Similarly, if an employee has a period of sickness, or is recovering from surgery, remote working is a good way for them to return to the workplace in the safest and most comfortable way.
How do we move forward?
Developing an inclusive workplace is crucial, now more than ever.
As Invisible Disabilities Week begins from 17October, why not start a conversation with your employees? It’s important that we work to break the stigma surrounding invisible disabilities, making the workplace a more inclusive space for everyone.
For further help or advice on matters related to inclusion in the workplace, please contact us today.