Addressing Health Conditions in the Workplace With Manager Training

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Sandy Witt
It’s important to help make the connection for your management team that their employees’ productivity can be affected by a health condition.

Recently, a survey we conducted found 53% of employees were too scared to bring up their health condition with a manager, while only 29% said the same of working with HR.1 On the other hand, 73% of employees felt that HR knew how to support them, while only 61% said the same of their managers.1

These findings highlight two important challenges:

  • Employees often feel they can’t talk to their managers about their health conditions
  • And if they do, they feel their managers aren’t prepared to help them

But why? These findings may be rooted in the nature of managers’ and HR professionals’ job roles. By nature, managers are focused on the work that is coming from their team, while HR professionals are focused on the organization itself.

However, it’s important to help make the connection for your management team that their employees’ productivity can be affected by a health condition. This makes it crucial to train your managers on how to identify and support an employee working through a serious health condition. Here are some best practices for training managers in this area.

Help Managers Identify a Potential Condition

Managers might not consider a potential underlying health condition as the reason for an employee’s poor performance and assume an employee who is struggling with his or her job is lazy or doesn’t care. Managers should be reminded to never make assumptions and know to watch for employees who are:

  • Struggling to perform job duties
  • Complaining of pain
  • Missing work often
  • Showing up late
  • Exhibiting a sudden decline in job performance
  • Asking for accommodations that are more complex

If a manager notices these common signs in an employee, it’s a strong indicator that the employee could be experiencing a health condition at work and that a manager may want to check in with them.

Equip Them to Have Difficult Conversations

Once managers have identified an employee who may be struggling with an underlying medical condition, they need to feel confident in approaching them. Training managers on what they can and cannot ask may help them to become more confident in approaching an employee’s health condition. During training, remind managers to:

  • Be proactive and empathetic
  • Avoid asking the wrong questions
  • Don’t just rephrase or broaden a question
  • Ask the right questions

A sound way to bring up a conversation with an employee is by relating the concern back to their job performance, such as, “I’ve noticed you’ve been late to work recently. Is everything OK? I’d like to offer help if I can.” A simple, “How are you?” can be effective as well.

Provide Them With Resources

By providing managers with resources, they can feel empowered to address an employee’s situation while assuring the employee that he or she has their best interests in mind. One of the most comprehensive and reliable resources available to you, your organization and its employees is your disability carrier. Disability consultants can help train managers, facilitate communication and provide individual support to employees. A consultant can help make sure that everyone — from the employee, to his or her medical team and employer — is on the same page and that everyone is working together.

By training managers on how to identify and communicate about disabilities in the workplace, you can help the eyes and ears of your organization be more approachable and successful.


1 Data based on a survey of 611 participants conducted in April 2017 by a third-party research firm hired by The Standard.