· 2 min read · Features

Line managers and IBD in the workplace


By 2030, it is estimated 40% of the working age population will have at least one long-term chronic condition. Strategies around the management of such conditions need to have increased focus in employment situations, as they soon may become the norm.

Organisations have to start developing methods and incorporating reasonable adjustments to help those with long-term chronic conditions enter and remain in employment.

A new report from The Work Foundation, Working Well: Promoting job and career opportunities for those with IBD, has highlighted the critical role that line managers have when helping employees with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) enter and remain in employment.

IBD is the name for a group of diseases that cause inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. It is a long term, fluctuating, chronic condition that affects an estimated 300,000 people in the UK, costing the economy £470 million per year.

However, the report – which interviewed individuals with IBD of working age in employment, and employers who have experience of managing those with IBD – indicated there are ways line management can be improved to help those with IBD remain in employment.

Line managers play a critical role in influencing employee behaviours by the way they translate people management policies into practices, and they can be vital in making the difference between a low- and high-performing organisation. They can also support employees and provide the right environment for them to work in. This is why the employment relationship is so important, especially when an employee has a chronic condition such as IBD.

The symptoms of IBD can be embarrassing and are fluctuating, so to enable disclosure the employee needs to have open and honest communication with their line manger. Participants who were able to remain in employment did so because they had ‘good line managers’.

These managers displayed characteristics such as having an awareness of IBD and how it can affect an individual both emotionally and physiologically, had developed a trusting relationship where an employee could openly discuss their IBD and ask for reasonable adjustments without fear of discrimination, and worked on developing a culture of care and support in the workplace, so that those with long-term conditions did not feel discriminated against.

Importantly, the employers also recognised that line mangers were key in implementing any policies that organisations have for enabling those with long-term conditions to remain in employment. In many situations, line managers are typically chosen because of their accomplishment in work tasks, so some may lack the people management skills necessary to aid those with IBD.

Employers argued that it is difficult for line managers to be aware of all long-term conditions that their employees may have, and how they affect staff, and I agree.

However some employers in this report have undertaken basic line management training in the management of long-term conditions, which includes understanding sickness absence trigger points, conducting return to work interviews with sensitivity, how to handle and implement support and advice provided by occupational health, and how to be supportive and sympathetic.

One could argue that this is ‘basic people management’, but evidence from this report indicated that some individuals with IBD did not receive this, often resulting in early exit from the workforce.

The report also highlighted how simple reasonable adjustments can be implemented by line managers to help those with IBD remain in work and productive. Ensuring that adequate toilet facilities were available was particularly important.

Other reasonable adjustments included flexibility in the location and hours of work, time off for hospital appointments, avoiding hot-desks, and in some cases adjusting work expectations. Employees were grateful when employers showed a willingness to listen to their needs and made adjustments that helped improve their management of IBD at work, but this predominantly occurred when a positive employment relationship had been established.

It clear from the report that those with IBD want to work, and in many cases have the health to work. When a positive employment relationship existed it increased the likelihood of ‘good work’, and those with IBD could enter, remain in and stay productive in the workplace.

Zofia Bajorek is a researcher with The Work Foundation