Receiving a medical prognosis that completely transforms your future is an incredibly difficult, harrowing reality. Upon receiving this news our worlds and priorities inevitably shift as we become immersed in uncertainty, anxiety and the loss of what we ultimately expected from our lives. As such, it is every employer’s responsibility to support their staff through any prognoses they receive, not only by adjusting and responding to their changing needs, but by helping to fuel their positivity, hope and optimism. After all, this speaks volumes for a company’s workplace culture.
Of course, as prognoses must be handled with sensitivity, compassion and understanding, this isn’t something businesses want to get wrong. Chris Freer knows all about this. He was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis almost 20 years ago. The news completely changed his life and, for a time, he accepted all that he thought it meant for his future. However, when Freer was told in 2008 that he’d be in a wheelchair within four years, his mindset shifted. He decided he’d do anything he could to fight the illness, including using a positive mindset to set his life on another course. Now, 14 years later, Freer remains on his feet and has exceeded expectations – all while running his own business Upbeat Life, an organisation committed to supporting people with disabilities and learning disabilities through various coaching services.
If you’re determined to support employees experiencing terminal and/or debilitating illnesses in an informed, considered way, here are Freer’s insights:
When a staff member is diagnosed with a terminal and/or debilitating illness, it’s important that you, as their employer, do all that you can to understand this illness, its effects, and how it can redefine sufferers’ lives. Only by genuinely understanding your employee’s reality can you provide valuable support, show you care, and respond to their needs. It’s vital that you show you’re engaged, that you’re willing to make time for them and, ultimately, that your efforts to help aren’t merely a box-ticking exercise.
According to The Equality Act 2010 in the UK, employers must make reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability, which includes terminal illnesses. If you can do anything to make your employee’s life easier, for example more annual leave, shorter working hours, more regular breaks throughout the day, a reduced workload, flex-time, the ability to work from home, or similar, do. These small changes will make a huge difference for anyone adjusting to a prognosis, whilst demonstrating that you’re a business which puts its people first.
Supporting an employee through a prognosis is an emotional and challenging process; if this isn’t something you’ve done before, or you simply think you’d benefit from some help along the way, then seek support from an external, objective expert. For example, at Upbeat Life our coaches help individuals with disabilities through difficult periods, doing our very best to improve their quality of life. Through working with groups like ours, you’ll know you’re going above and beyond.
Receiving a life-changing diagnosis is difficult enough without having to manage workplace logistics. If your employee is facing a life-changing health struggle, take on challenges like this where you can; make sure their rights and responsibilities are made clear and emphasise their access to flexibility and support. Proactively bringing this information to your employee, instead of leaving them to search for it, will take pressure off their shoulders.
‘When adjusting to an illness and its effects on our lives, you experience good days and bad days. As an employer, it’s important that you regularly check-in with your staff; see how they’re doing, whether they need any extra support, how their symptoms are faring, and generally show that they’re an ongoing-priority.’
No two prognoses, and their subsequent impact on sufferers’ lives, can be compared. We are all unique and so how we feel and respond will vary greatly. When considering how you can support your employees, don’t assume the same approach will work for everyone. You must work with your employee to see how they’d prefer to be supported, creating a tailored, informed and thoughtful strategy.
Above all else, the most important thing you can do to support your staff is prove they’re a priority. By compassionately adjusting their schedules, understanding their needs and maintaining open communication you will undoubtedly help them on their journey.
Chris Freer, pictured above, is founder of Upbeat Life