How HR can create a more inclusive workplace

Over 20 million employees in Australia face chronic health challenges with 73% linking their conditions to job-related stressors.
By: | February 7, 2024

Millions of employees live with chronic illnesses, and their needs are often overlooked.

A study by the University of Melbourne shed light on the impact of chronic illnesses on the Australian workforce, with over 20 million individuals, comprising 63% of employees, grappling with long-term health conditions. The research revealed a connection between workplace stressors and chronic health issues, affecting individuals with conditions ranging from musculoskeletal disorders to anxiety and depression.

According to the study, 73% of respondents believe their chronic illnesses are partially linked to their jobs, while nearly one in five attribute their conditions entirely to workplace factors. This aligns with Safe Work Australia data indicating a surge in serious employees’ compensation claims related to health conditions, particularly mental health.

In an article published on The Conversation, Peter Ghin, Research Fellow, Future of Work Lab, Faculty of Business and Economics, the University of Melbourne; and Susuan Ainsworth, Professor of Management and Marketing, the University of Melbourne; recommend several proactive steps that employers can take to support employees dealing with chronic illnesses.

Firstly, initiating open and sensitive discussions with chronically ill employees about potential adjustments to work schedules, task delegation, or reasonable accommodations is crucial to enhancing workflow and ensuring that employees can perform at their best.

Secondly, employers should acknowledge and streamline administrative processes associated with approving reasonable requests, such as flexible working arrangements. By doing so, employers foster trust and support among employees, creating an environment where individuals feel valued and accommodated.

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Lastly, it is essential to train managers appropriately. Equipping managers with the necessary training helps them understand that supporting chronically ill employees is not about special treatment but about fostering effective collaboration within changed capacities. This approach ensures that managers are well-prepared to create an inclusive and supportive workplace environment for all employees, regardless of their health conditions.