No need to be AT work with a Mental/Physical Illness

No need to be AT work with a Mental/Physical Illness

A first glance, you might think that this blog is about telling people with mental and physical challenges to STOP working. This is not that kind of blog.

I have a dear friend who has worked in the office jungle for many years. Also during that time, she has suffered from an anxiety disorder and an unrelated physical illness. She has never told her employers, and she believes the truth has gone unnoticed – especially since her medication relieves most symptoms. Because of this knowledge, I have given a lot of thought to how people COPE within the workplace. And, how the workplace can be improved.

Recently Pam Ross wrote an insightful blog titled Managing Depression and Mental Illness While At Work. In the blog, she describes ways that leaders can create a safe place for those who are suffering. I agree with all elements that Pam covered, and will add to the idea of what work can and should be. 

My feeling is that until work is a safe place, where individuals can be comfortable sharing their challenges, and be free of judgement and stigma, we need to give people a choice. Those with illnesses can choose to disclose their challenges, or there can be a plan for work/life balance.

THE TIME IS NOW – Change how we think about work!

I am not suggesting that employers hold their employees hands, let work slide, and have their businesses (large or small) suffer financially. Companies can’t afford to have people not working.

  • Let’s reduce the costs associated with people having to take an unproductive “day-off” to deal with their health challenges.
  • Let’s reduce the embarrassment of having to come up with an excuse (like a child) as to why they can’t come into work on a particular day.
  • Let’s empower employees to work as ADULTS. And, as adults they can choose their best environment to GET WORK DONE!

ROWE WE GO! The START of a perfect solution!

Work isn’t a place to GO, it’s something that we DO. And, with technology allowing us to be connected, we can work anywhere! There is no reason why we need to be chained to a cubicle or an office. As well, if everyone in the workplace has the opportunity to work in a ROWE, then those with chronic illnesses won’t stand out by working away from their cubicle/office when necessary.

What if people were allowed to work from home, a doctor’s waiting room, a coffee shop, and/or by the lake – whenever they needed to, without an explanation?

  • A person with depression can decide (waking up one morning), to bring their computer to bed, and write reports and answer emails from the comfort of their own home.
  • A person with a flare-up of back pain can decide to start the day with a chiropractic treatment, and then work from home. They can carry out the work day, and continue into the evening to accomplish their tasks.

In a ROWE (Results Only Work Environment) all that matters is: THE WORK GETS DONE.

In a ROWE, people focus on results and only results. ROWE is 100% accountable, and 100% autonomous. You do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it – AS LONG AS THE WORK GETS DONE.

Implementing a ROWE might be difficult in a position that is location based (restaurant server/line worker). However for all the positions that are chained unnecessarily to a cubicle or an office – this new way of working could be the best solution for facing a climate where almost everyone has some sort of personal challenge.

By working in a ROWE, the result is that work/life balance is more of a reality. People are more happy, motivated, productive, and trusting. When this happens not only will the company benefit from unhindered productivity, but ALL employees will benefit as well.

Note – the first-ever ROWE certification workshop in Canada is being held this June find out more HERE to certify your organization.

TAKE THE BLINDFOLD OFF! People with mental/physical Illnesses are ALL AROUND YOU!

Often-times, we have blinders on, and don’t see people’s mental or physical illnesses. This doesn’t solve the problem, and in the end, we’re really only fooling ourselves.

There are A LOT of people out there with A LOT of challenges. Look to your left, look to your right– they are all around you (see the stats at the bottom of this blog). They are owners, partners, leaders, subordinates, colleagues, sellers, buyers, suppliers and vendors.

Probability says – it could be YOU or ME.

EMPLOYERS ARE NOT TOLD – most are hiding it.

Job candidates, new hires, and people that have been on the job for years do not typically disclose if they have a chronic or acute illnesses. Instead, they develop countless coping mechanisms. Due to all of these challenges, and coping methods, these are actually the most strong and resilient people you will ever meet. They are motivated, and driven. They face adversity, and keep pushing on.

Why don’t they tell?

  • Stigma! Mental Illness (and many physical health challenges) can carry a “mark of disgrace”. The illness can set people apart, which can ultimately lead to negative actions and discrimination.
  • Discrimination!  Among many consequences, career goals (current and future) may be compromised.
  • Judgement! People may treat those with illnesses differently and see them not as “capable”. Colleagues may attribute “normal human error” to the illness – devalue all future effort – and view the person as less reliable.
  • Gossip! People may spread the information.

Of course a company can’t legally discriminate, and there are wonderful employers out there doing great things to increase the diversity of their workforce and accommodate disabilities of all kinds. However, the reality is that it’s still not safe for the majority to disclose a chronic or acute illness. There have been improvements in reducing stigma and discrimination in the workplace, but we still have a long way to go.

That is why looking at new ways to work, might be the perfect solution to get started in the right direction.

STATISTICS – Mental Illness:

  • There are about 7 million Canadians living with a mental illness (about 1 in 5 people).
  • Mental illness includes: Anxiety, social anxiety disorder, depression, panic disorder, acute stress disorder, alcohol abuse, PTSD, & Schizophrenia.
  • In Canada, the annual cost of uninsured mental health services, and indirect costs is estimated to be at $6.3 billion. This figure includes things such as time off work, and lost productivity in the workplace.

STATISTICS – Physical Illness:

  • One in five Canadians suffer from chronic pain, and the annual cost of chronic pain in Canada is estimated to be at least $60 Billion dollars due to health care and work productivity.
  • An estimated 177,800 Canadians were diagnosed with cancer in 2011.
  • Heart disease and stroke costs the Canadian economy more than $20.9 billion every year in physician services, hospital costs, lost wages and decreased productivity.
  • Approximately two million Canadians are affected by autoimmune diseases (such as Lupus, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.


If you liked this blog – check out these:

Worst Employee Ever
Managing Depression and Mental Illness WHILE AT WORK
Scrap Your Work From Home Policy

Looking for more workplace inspiration? Get Pam’s FREE eBook: How Social Media is Changing Business… and what to do about it. It’s FREE for email subscribers – and don’t worry, we promise not to spam your inbox!

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