The sudden onset of a disabling illness or injury, especially a severe one, can result in a number of emotions — not just for an employee, but the employer as well. For an employee, adjusting to a new life with a medical condition can be challenging to process and discuss with others. As an employer, it’s often difficult to know how to provide the right kind of support. And, if communication lines are crossed, it can be an unexpected problem in an already difficult situation.
What you may not know is that a Workplace Possibilities℠ consultant can step in and help in this type of situation. As we’ve discussed before, employees who are adjusting to severe medical conditions often feel more comfortable discussing their health with a third party, and may be more receptive to help from a consultant than they would from their employer.
Reaching out for assistance
I recently helped an employer — a university — with this type of situation. One of its student advisors had been registered as legally blind due to complications from diabetes, and was struggling at work due to the sudden onset of her condition. In addition to having difficulty moving around the office, she was having problems using her computer. She also was growing distant, and started to ignore some of her job duties, which included meeting with students to assist with course selections.
Unsure of how to handle the situation, her employer reached out to the Workplace Possibilities program for help. From there, I connected with the employer directly to learn more about the situation. Additionally, her employer mentioned concerns that the employee may not have been coping well with her disability.
Developing a rapport with the employee
From there, I reached out to the employee to learn more about her condition and help find accommodations for her at work. My first goal was to develop a rapport with her, as she was initially not open to discussing the issues she was experiencing and didn’t want any information about her condition making it back to her employer. After I reassured her that her personal information would be kept confidential and that the goal was to help her stay at work, the employee welcomed the assistance.
To help the employee better perform her duties, a number of accommodations were implemented. These included two large computer monitors, screen magnifier, a large-print keyboard and speech recognition software. The employee also took part in visual rehabilitation training through her state’s Commission for the Blind organization to help her re-acclimate to her surroundings at work. In addition, the employee was connected to receive counseling through the employer’s employee assistance program to help with her depression and communication difficulties.
Educating the employer
I also provided resources for the employer, too. Because the employee felt her employer wasn’t supportive as she was adjusting to this life-changing condition, I recommended key employer contacts go through disability awareness training with a focus on vision impairment, to open up lines of communication.
The accommodations to date have been successful, and the employee has been able to continue working with the new technology accommodations. Helping the employee and employer bridge the gap and get the employee the right assistance helped ensure a valuable employee stayed at work, and students received the assistance they needed to continue their studies.