Coronavirus opens up new opportunities for workers with life limiting illness

People with a life limiting issue or disability could become invaluable to businesses in a post- coronavirus world, according Steve Shutts from recruitment charity Astriid.

Speaking to HR magazine, Shutts argued that those who have the skillset but are unable to work full time or within set hours would be more appealing to businesses looking to save money.

He said: “Businesses will want someone who can be there very quickly but with the right skill set. Companies may not want to have lots of expensive full time staff on payroll so may prefer to find someone on a part-time or zero hour’s contract which works for both parties.”

Astriid is a charity which connects businesses with those with workers with life limiting or chronic illnesses such as cancer, MS or mental health issues looking for more flexible roles.

It was set up by Shutt’s brother David who when diagnosed with cancer found his career prospects greatly reduced.

“People who are diagnosed with a life limiting issue such as cancer may not be able to do what they used to do due to their health which means their career will be halted. But they can still work, just at different hours or they might not be able to move out of the home, said Shutts.

“These people whose lives are limited could offer years of experience and skills to businesses but often they don’t get a look in. There’s millions of people out there like that.”

Astriid has helped people like Victoria Clutton who suffers from chronic fatigue which causes pain, extreme fatigue, sensory overload and on very bad days, brain fog which can mean she is unable to concentrate or even speak.

Clutton struggled for 20 years to find a job which suited her needs until she found work as a communications coordinator for a global engineering company Altran.

She said having the opportunity to work remotely can have lots of benefits for workers and businesses.

“What I love about working remotely is that all the environmental problems that would exist for me in an office disappear. I can control the temperature, the noise level, the light level which really lets me concentrate and focus. My bed is nearby and I can rest in it as I need to throughout the day.

“What we learn now will be incredibly helpful for at least the medium term and has the potential to make companies more flexible, better able to retain skilled workers and weather disruption in the future. I think all those things are generally valuable.”

Shutts predicted the current period of social distancing will help to reframe the narrative of illness in the workplace.

He said: “Every organisation in business is having to learn to work flexibly, meaning every hiring manager in the country has some experience of social isolation.

"Some of our candidates have been experiencing this for years. This can be hard but it will mean their experience of working from home and how best to deal with it will put them at a massive advantage.”

Full time remote working can be isolating for many workers so Shutts recommended that HR make an extra effort to check in on workers with life limiting conditions.

He added: “The type of people we’re dealing with are not visible to managers. The most important thing is about keeping in touch. Employers should check in to make sure individuals are doing ok and are feeling supported and communicated with and that treatment and medication is being managed and maintained.”

Workers across the country have had to adapt to remote working, but for those with disabilities the use of technology has helped immeasurably.

Ganeev Chadha is an EY manager in commercial performance who has had profound hearing loss since birth.

He recommended using video for calls as much as possible to help those who may struggle without face-to-face contact.

“For individuals with a hearing impairment, interpreting body language and lip-reading in face to face meetings are vital to understanding conversations, he said. “While it’s difficult to fully replicate, video calls and being able to still see colleagues’ faces have really helped with the adjustment.

"Additional features available on some conference call platforms such as live captioning have also made it easier to communicate during this time.

“If you’re communicating with a colleague who has a hearing impairment, you can help make the captions as accurate as possible by speaking clearly and directly into the microphone, and also making sure that, if there are several people on the call, they speak one at a time. I personally find that one to one calls can make communicating even clearer.”

The EY Hearing Community has also been providing tips on voice recognition software for video call which can create live captioning.

Further reading:

We need to start talking about the disability wage gap

Is microaggresion training a step too far?

Tips for being a great workplace ally

Disabled workers not confident of employer support