The thing about having an invisible condition is that most people don’t know there’s an issue. And if people don’t know you have a permanent problem with your health, you can feel like you have to constantly explain yourself.
It is also likely that you live in a constant state of embarrassment.
Choosing to share your condition with colleagues is fraught with problems, as you wonder what judgements will be made about your ability to do your job. You may have heard people bandy stereotypes around the office, and you don’t want to be living proof of them.
‘I probably need to explain…’ is a phrase I use frequently with colleagues, before proceeding to describe my health issues, and the reason why I need to make frequent trips to the Ladies’.
While people are usually sympathetic, explaining toilet habits to virtual strangers is not something anyone relishes doing, and I suspect not something they relish listening to!
Whatever the invisible condition, there is usually a resulting embarrassing situation that needs to be navigated in daily or weekly work schedules.
Understanding Invisible Illnesses
Invisible illnesses can take a number of different forms.
From physical conditions which affect bowel habits, to specific learning difficulties that alter the way you process information, living with an invisible condition can impact your ability to work in environments which others find straightforward.
As a result, you can feel like you’re not able to push for the promotion you desire, or to work the same 9-5 routine which others manage easily.
The statistics for people with an invisible condition are high, as 1 in 4 people experience problems with their mental health, while 1 in 8 people have issues with their sight. Whether you have arthritis or repetitive strain injury, invisible conditions affect many of us.
I have a number of invisible conditions. They’re not life-threatening or life-shortening, but they do present a variety of issues.
So how has lockdown helped me? Working remotely means that I can control the environment I work in.
I can work entirely under natural light to prevent migraine attacks. I can control my hydration and sugar levels by eating and drinking whenever I need to. I can rush to the loo whenever necessary, and when the pain in my belly is too much, I can lie down and type on my computer in comfort.
I appreciate that remote working is not possible for everyone, and even within my own job, it will not be possible to work completely from home in the future, but I do hope that employers will work with staff to accommodate their needs going forward – needs which may include home working.
The Health Benefits Of Working Remotely
Just having the option to work in the comfort of your own home some of the time will enable staff to feel valued and be productive in ways that offices often limit.
This ability to manage the work environment results in fewer health problems, which in turn results in fewer sick days – and in my case, no sick days at all.
In many instances, employers get greater value for their money, as employees tend to put in more hours due to the extra flexibility. Allowing employees to manage their own workload also breeds a sense of trust, which in turn breeds loyalty – and loyalty leads to higher staff retention.
Working remotely has also meant that more personal conversations about health and wellbeing can be had with department managers, because there is no-one else present to hear what is being shared.
My biggest fear about work once the pandemic is under control and life returns to some kind of normal, is that there will be an expectation to return to working in the way that we did pre-COVID.
Many people are eager to get back to the office, but for all the leaders out there – give a thought to those of us who have invisible conditions and are more productive when working remotely.