Crohn’s & Colitis is often described as an invisible disability as you cannot see the symptoms. However, this does not mean that it does not have debilitating side effects that make normal life incredibly difficult for those suffering from it.
After a member of the Webtrends Optimize team was diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), we decided to select Crohn’s & Colitis UK as one of our chosen charities to support.
For Crohn’s & Colitis week (which takes place from the 1st – the 7th of December every year), our focus is on the employer - and the different steps they can take to support someone going through this.
Suffering from IBD is something which is debilitating, painful, and often not known to many people. It is something which can flare up at any time, meaning that someone can be fine one minute and in excruciating discomfort the next.
Our colleague describes symptoms of weight loss, the urgent need to go to the bathroom, diarrhoea combined with blood and mucus, severe mouth ulcers and general fatigue, something they had to live with whilst seemingly going about their everyday life.
Being part of awareness weeks and raising money for charity exposes us to some of the issues employers should be aware of and how they can support their people in the workplace.
As part of this, we have pledged to make our workplace more inclusive. Including educating our staff on invisible disabilities, raising awareness for Crohn’s & Colitis UK and promoting the charity in our newsletter, on our website and across social media.
Some key facts for an employer to know
There are two main forms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, the first is Crohn’s Disease and the other is Ulcerative Colitis. They are both lifelong diseases of the gut and can be diagnosed at any age. Some people diagnosed with this disease feel well most of the time, whereas other people can take longer to find a treatment that’s right for them.
Providing a safe, inclusive, and supportive environment will help employees open up about their condition, the difficulties they face and the support they require. Each person with IBD is unique and their needs are very different. Attentive employers will regularly check in with employees to find out what they need help with and where they can be supported.
To ensure there is a clear understanding between the employee and employer, it is recommended the organisation has policies on sickness absence, disability leave and medical appointments. Being flexible around these policies will show support to employees.
If an employee is considered disabled under the Equality Act, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Symptoms of Crohn’s & Colitis that an employer should know about
Whilst this is a bowel disease, it is not something which just affects the gut. It can also affect energy levels, digestion, and mental health. It affects everyone differently, so while some people may feel well, for others it takes longer to find a treatment that is right for them.
Some symptoms that Crohn’s & Colitis can cause:
- Diarrhoea (sometimes with blood)
- Urgent or frequent need to go to the toilet
- Abdominal pain
- Extreme tiredness
- Lack of appetite
Crohn’s & Colitis can also cause painful joints, eye problems, mouth ulcers, and skin rashes. Not all symptoms of this disease are visible, so it is important to check in with your employees to understand how they feel.
How can you help your employees?
The first thing you can do as an employer is create an environment that allows employees to feel safe enough to talk about how they feel and what they are going through.
There is often a stigma around Crohn’s & Colitis, so those who suffer from it often feel ashamed when talking about their condition. As reported on Crohn’s & Colitis UK, a recent study found that almost half of people with Crohn’s & Colitis say their conditions have affected their mental health.
The symptoms experienced by someone suffering from Crohn’s & Colitis means it is important they feel comfortable, as they need to reach a toilet urgently or frequently or may need longer breaks.
By creating an environment that allows people to talk freely means they can openly communicate their needs and feel confident these will be met. Once you understand what the employee requires, you can work to support them.
A range of factors can help employees who have Crohn’s and Colitis overcome barriers at work:
- Accessible toilets
- Flexible working arrangements
- A knowledgeable and inclusive work environment
- Working alongside others in a supportive team
Managing time off work
There may be times when an employee must take time off or work from home for various reasons. This is often unplanned and unpredictable if it is the result of a severe flare-up, fatigue, or mental health problems.
If you have clear policies in place to support employees when these issues occur, this enables the employee to feel supported as well as follow company guidelines.
It could be a good idea to appoint a family member as a point of contact in case of emergencies or to communicate on their behalf. You may also consider having a close colleague of the employee as the liaison from within the business, as they may feel more supported rather than being contacted by their manager.
If the employee is absent from work because of a disability-related sickness, this should be recorded separately from other sickness absences.
Sign up to the pledge today
If you are looking to be more supportive of your team and create an environment where employees feel comfortable sharing personal experiences, sign up to the Crohn’s & Colitis pledge today!
It can really make a difference to the happiness of the employee and how well they are able to do their job.