aDirector of Human Resources at Family Destinations Guide, a website that offers kid-friendly vacation ideas, Bonnie Whitfield is always working to make sure employees feel comfortable disclosing their medical conditions so the company can provide accommodations. For Whitfield, it’s not just professional – it’s personal, because she did it inflammatory bowel disease (Ibed).
“Because I have IBD, and I’ve been through some upheaval at work, I know what it’s like to be in this situation,” she says. Employees often try to deal not only with symptoms of a chronic illness, but also worry about questions such as: Should I tell my employer and co-workers? Will people feel they can’t count on me? What if I feel embarrassed to talk about it?
These are all common concerns, Whitfield says, and unfortunately, worrying about such issues can actually put you at greater risk. glow inflammatory bowel disease It can affect your business.
IBD includes two conditions –Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis – which is characterized by inflammation of the digestive system leading to symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fatigue and sudden weight loss. Treatment options help many people recover until their condition is no longer a problem, but even on medication, symptoms may return in an attack that can range from mild to debilitating and may last days or weeks. Whitfield says the unpredictability of illness is another potential concern when considering how it affects work performance.
“Sometimes pushing yourself can exacerbate the flare,” she adds. “Making a plan in advance can go a long way toward maintaining your productivity while still taking care of yourself. It is important to remember that illness does not mean you cannot be an effective employee.”
Here are some tips to keep in mind when balancing your health and your workplace, even if your IBD is in remission now.
Let the employer know – and write it down
Although IBD symptoms — such as frequent trips to the bathroom, gas, and bloating — can feel embarrassing, it’s important to realize that you have a chronic illness and that it should be treated as such, advises Whitfield.
She suggests telling your immediate supervisor and HR manager not only your status, but also what you need in terms of accommodations and why this will help you do better in the workplace. For example, many people with IBD benefit from having a desk or cubicle closer to the bathroom, which may reduce the time they spend going back and forth during a flare. Also, simply approaching it may reduce anxiety about the problem, and that in and of itself may relieve some of the symptoms. Having to use a wheelchair may also be a role, as side effects of treatment are used ulcerative colitis It can lead to mobility challenges, so letting your employer know that it can be — and making sure you get access to all the areas you need — is critical to planning ahead.
There may be multiple visits to the doctor as well, especially when seizures are more common, and treatment can include options such as surgery in the future. Preparing your employer for this possibility should be part of the conversation about your condition.
Whitfield says putting such information in writing is the best approach, as it provides the most clarity about what you need. In addition, it ensures that all parties receive the same information.
“Explain how IBD affects your work performance and how you can still do your job effectively while keeping up with treatment regimens and any other responsibilities the company requires, such as overtime,” she adds. “The more specific you are about the amenities that will help you stay healthy and productive, the better equipped your employer will be to develop a plan that works for both of you.”
Another benefit of writing it down: It can seem easier than saying everything in a meeting, especially with several people or those you don’t know very well. For example, when Span Chen was in Los Angeles working as a cashier, every day felt like a battle due to the pain and inability to leave a group of clients. The treatment helped reduce seizures, but it also led to more fatigue. He felt reluctant to stir up his struggles.
“What helped me was writing a letter to my boss explaining what was going on, that I needed to take time off in order to fully recover,” says Chen. “Because I wrote it down, I didn’t forget the key points, like saying that being able to spend more time away from work would allow me to come back healthy.”
Put some code words and contingency plans in place
Even just having a keyword phrase can help, says Cassie Mahone, who leads client meetings for her employer in Columbia, Missouri. She informed her boss about her IBD, and together they drafted an action plan about what to do if Mahone had to leave suddenly.
“If I say it’s time for a short break, she understands what’s going on and we don’t have to tell anyone else in the room what’s going on,” she says, adding that sometimes her boss will step in to continue the show if necessary. This may seem like a minor tweak to the process, but Mahone says it provides much-needed reassurance that her work can continue with minimal disruption.
Stick to your routine
Although IBD may not be expected, your work schedule is still possible, if you have the option to be flexible about location. This means making sure you are able to work from home occasionally and that there is a plan in place for those days, including setting up a home office and accessing the company’s online resources.
“Keep as faithful to your regular routine as possible, which can help take some of the stress off an IBD flare up,” Whitfield says. “This can make your life seem normal while also giving your body time to recover.”
Of course, not everyone has the option of working from home, but if that is feasible for you and can relieve some of the anxiety about being in the office, it is helpful to include time at home when possible. If that’s not possible, Whitfield says, creating a more flexible work schedule can be another helpful strategy. For example, if having a lot of co-workers makes you anxious about flares, you can swap one day of the week to work on a weekend day so you’re in the office with fewer people.
Keep supplies on hand
Another part of preparing is knowing what you need so that you have items ready, no matter what.
For Boston-based Keyla Caba, being anywhere that isn’t home can be challenging with IBD, especially because she wears an ileostomy bag — a special bag that collects waste from the colon — that must be emptied regularly. After years of worrying about the distance between her desk and the bathroom, she decided to make her experience more comfortable, and address her concerns about not getting to the bathroom in time, a priority.
That always meant a spare outfit at the office, some sort of deodorant spray, and a sign she’d hung over her desk to let her co-workers know she was having a glow and needed extra time away.
“This was the beginning of how to turn the office bathroom into a peaceful experience for myself, and it relieved me of worrying about the toilet,” says Capa. “Knowing I have what I need on hand can reduce my concerns about flares.”
Know your rights
Even if company management and human resources are happy to meet your needs as a person with IBD, it’s still essential to know your rights as an employee, says Kia Roberts, director and founder of Brooklyn, New York-based Triangle Investigations, which deals with assessments of workplace misconduct. For example, she recently worked on a case of harassment of a person with Crohn’s disease and her manager did not give him facilities.
“Most workplaces today understand the importance of not discriminating against employees on the basis of protected characteristics such as race, gender, gender and ethnicity, but many employers do not understand the importance of having a policy on how to treat employees with health problems in the workplace,” says Roberts. “If an employee feels they are being singled out for different treatment based on their health issues, this may represent discrimination on the part of the employer.”
Another important aspect of your rights: If your IBD is disabled, it is protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which means your employer must provide reasonable accommodations. You may also be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives eligible employees the right to work-protected unpaid leave for medical reasons – up to 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month time period.
Focus on healthy gut lifestyle habits
Part of being more productive at work comes from what you do outside of the office, and that means implementing the right lifestyle behaviors, according to Dr. Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Care Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. In addition to making sure you follow treatment protocols such as the medications you may be prescribed, you can reduce your risk of flare-ups by focusing on your gut health, he says.
“Diet will, of course, play a major role in managing your IBD, but just as important as other habits that improve your gut microbiome,” Farhadi says. “The top three are sleep, stress reduction, and exercise, because if you’re on track with your diet, you can drastically reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups.”
For example, there is a strong association between sleep difficulties and gut function, which can lead to more than just daytime sleepiness or a glow at work. 2018 study in the journal Frontiers in Psychiatry Insomnia has been found to be linked to poor immune function, difficulty absorbing certain nutrients, and depression.
Be aware of potential fatigue
Stress is another big challenge when it comes to avoiding flare-ups, adds Dr. Rudolph Bedford, MD, a gastroenterologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
“Chronic stress has a ripple effect on your gut microbiome, which means it can weaken your digestive system and prevent it from working well,” he says. “When you have IBD, it means that it may make your flares worse, or it may cause a flare-up even if it has been well managed in the past.”
A large part of better stress control comes from evaluating all aspects of your daily activity, and that includes work. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here’s another conversation to start with your supervisor and HR. “When someone has a chronic illness like IBD, remember that it must be a team effort in terms of management,” Whitfield says. “The more people around you understand what’s going on, the more beneficial it will be to you, your company, and your co-workers.”
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