A study completed just months ago by Amazon and the Harvard Business Review provides us with some interesting data about working people who are suffering chronic illnesses during the post-Covid age.

Entitled How People Experience Chronic Illness at Work and published in May, the study was conducted by Katie Bach, MBA, MSc, the Director of Science Partnerships and Impact at Amazon, and Gretchen Gavett, a senior editor at Harvard Business Review.

Here at PROVOKE Health, a functional medicine and integrative healthcare practice dedicated to collaborating with patients to rekindle their confidence and improve their resiliency, we create and co-manage personalized plans of care that address or prevent complex health problems, including chronic illnesses. Bach and Gavett’s study is of particular interest because it appears to be the first to explore how recent chronic illnesses such as those discussed below impact workers, and what actions employers can provide to support them better.

Image for Survey: How People Experience Chronic Illness at WorkOur patients often tell us about their work-related concerns due to conditions that include long Covid, myalgic encephalomyelitis / chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), which are reshaping the workplace landscape in many parts of the country. These conditions, along with mold-related illness and environmentally acquired illness, often lead to fluctuating symptoms and unpredictable energy levels, thus hindering consistent performance at work.

At PROVOKE Health, we understand the complexities of chronic illnesses and are dedicated to diagnosing and treating these conditions in order for our patients to regain their health and resilience. So when a study comes along that offers additional insight into these topics, we’re listening.

What appears to be the impact of chronic illness at work? Here is what the study reveals:

The Impact of Chronic Illness at Work

Experiences Vary Dramatically: The survey reveals a stark contrast between the perspectives of chronically ill workers and their non-ill colleagues. While 60 percent of non-ill respondents believe their organizations are supportive, only 36 percent of those with chronic illnesses agree. This discrepancy highlights a critical gap in understanding and support within workplaces.

Daily Struggles: Chronically ill workers report a range of symptoms that vary daily, making consistent performance challenging. One respondent in the study described the fluctuation as follows:

Long Covid means that one day I can work at almost full capacity and the next I can barely get out of bed.”

At PROVOKE Health, we specialize in understanding these fluctuations and developing personalized treatment plans to help manage symptoms. And often, we’re able to share information that helps employers better understand the temporary limitations of their affected employees and team members.

Significant Sacrifices: Many chronically ill people have had to reduce work hours, take medical leave, or even change jobs. Despite these challenges, 75 percent of respondents with chronic illnesses are still working — often at the cost of their personal time and well-being.

Barriers to Support

Fear of Disclosure: A significant barrier to obtaining necessary accommodations is the fear of stigma and potential career repercussions. As Stephen J. Dietrich, JD, points out in his 2024 book, FEAR DYNAMICS:Harnessing fear and anxiety to create lasting happiness and meaningful achievement, fear in the workplace can result in employee “avoidance of new experiences, change, and risk-taking, thereby stifling creativity, innovation, and adaptability.” In other words, the cost of fear in the workplace is high, but can be easily mitigated with a thoughtful approach to management.

In terms of fear of disclosure, one study respondent noted:

It’s too embarrassing to ask, and I think the management team will think less of me if they know how sick I am.”

At PROVOKE Health, we advocate for open communication and are equipped to provide documentation to support patients in their workplace discussions.

Lack of Formal Accommodations: While some employees benefit from informal agreements with understanding managers, others face significant hurdles. Only 27 percent reported having disability accommodations, such as flexible work hours or the ability to work from home during flare-ups. At PROVOKE Health and most functional medicine and integrative healthcare practices, we’re able to help patients navigate these challenges by working closely with them and their employers to establish necessary accommodations.

Best Practices for Employers

The study, which is just now gaining exposure and coverage in national media outlets, offers a number of best practices for employers to be aware of and implement, including the following:

Foster an Inclusive Culture: Employers are advised to create a safe environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their health needs without fear of judgment or career damage. This includes training managers to be sensitive and supportive. PROVOKE Health can provide educational resources and even customized workshops to facilitate this cultural shift.

Tailored Job Roles: By allowing flexibility in how work is done — focusing on deliverables rather than hours worked — employers can help chronically ill employees maintain productivity. One suggestion that Bach and Gavett’s study offers is co-creating a work plan with the employee and a medical expert to match their capabilities. Our healthcare team at PROVOKE Health can collaborate with employers to develop these tailored work plans.

Continuous Communication: Regular check-ins and open dialogue may ensure that accommodations remain effective and employees feel supported. An understanding and adaptable approach can help maintain a productive and positive work environment.

Chronically ill employees can contribute significantly to their organizations with the right support and understanding. For that to occur, employers should seek to bridge the gap between perceived and actual support, fostering a truly inclusive workplace where every employee can thrive.

As one study respondent aptly put it, “I just work differently now.”

Embracing this difference appears to be important to unlocking the potential of all workers. At PROVOKE Health, we are committed to helping our patients with chronic illnesses achieve optimal health, resiliency, confidence, and overall well-being, enabling them to excel both in and out of the workplace.

If you’re living with a chronic illness that’s affecting your work and you’d like assistance in making your employer aware of your situation, please contact us. We’d be happy to listen and see if we can help.

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Disclaimer: The information in this blog post about how people experience chronic illness at work is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect current medical thinking or practices. No information contained in this blog post should be construed as medical advice from Functional Healthcare Group, PLLC, or PROVOKE Health, nor is this blog post intended to be a substitute for medical counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this blog post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this blog post without seeking the appropriate medical advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a licensed medical professional in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.