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Together Stronger: Acknowledging IBD in Our Workplace

Posting date: 05/17/2024
For this year's World IBD Day, join us at SmartRecruiters as we shine a light on the lives of those within our own community. Our very own Smartians, Autumn Anderson and Oliver Jackson, share their personal journeys and insights, offering a deeper understanding and raising awareness about this impactful condition.
Watch their stories or explore the transcription below to see how support and adaptability create a nurturing work environment for everyone.

Press Play To Listen To Autumn & Oliver

Autumn: Hi, my name is Autumn Anderson and I am a Director of People Operations and Insights at SmartRecruiters. Today I'm going to share my IBD story with you. 
Oliver: Hi, I am Oliver Jackson, Large Enterprise Account Executive. I'm 31 years old. That's important because IBD is a relatively new disease and primarily affects young people, with most cases diagnosed in patients between the ages of 10 and 35. I’m right in that category. In the UK, there are approximately 300,000 People suffering from IBD and whilst the cause is unknown, it is becoming more common. And cases are growing year on year. A child in secondary school with IBD is unlikely to be the only one in their school.


How has living with IBD affected your work life, and how has the company supported you in managing your condition?

Autumn: I was first diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, which is an IBD back in 2012. At that time, I was still working in an office so it was extremely difficult for me. Symptoms can be debilitating or at the very least disruptive to the day from nausea and migraines related to my treatment to gut pain and digestive issues caused by the disease itself. Being in the comfort of my own home has helped me balance the need for a quiet, dimly lit place with the need and desire to balance a full workload.

The nature of most offices is not conducive to healing, recovering or even just functioning when you have a chronic illness. Overhead lighting is a huge trigger as well as noisy environments. I remember one time back in that office, I had a really bad reaction to my medication and there were no office spaces available for me to take a moment to myself. So I had to sit at my desk with my head down trying to let the nausea and headache pass. It never did and I simply could not take the train home so I had to spend money to take a cab just to survive my commute. Since I've worked from home I've had very few issues that cannot be managed. Remote work has been an absolute game changer for me.

Can you share any adjustments or accommodations that have been particularly helpful for you at work?

Oliver: Two policies that we have at SmartRecruiters that are particularly useful for me dealing with my IBD and Crohn's is unlimited holiday. Holiday is always available if I need it. If I get a flare up, I need a day off and that is immediately available. That's a huge relief when dealing with IBD. And [second policy] I guess our remote work policy. Working in a remote-first company allows me to work literally from anywhere. That means if I'm comfortable at home or in the office, or even occasionally if there is a flare up or I'm getting an infusion working from a hospital, it's easily accommodated and I can bring my best self to work but also ensure that I'm looked after appropriately as well.

How important is it for you to have a supportive and understanding team, and how does this impact your daily work life?

Autumn: Something that I found to be really special at SmartRecruiters as a supportive team I have. While having an IBD is not something that most people want to share, I've always been very vocal and active about making IBD visible. Not only to advocate for myself, but also to ensure others who may be living with it don't feel alone. Because of this my colleagues and leaders have been nothing but understanding and supportive. Generally concerned about my wellbeing. I don't have to hide when I take time off every four weeks to go get an injection or infusion. They always have my back and I have zero worries about what I'm going to do if I have to take time off. When we talk about bringing your full self to work. This is usually referring to some kind of inclusion and chronic illness is no different. 

How does your treatment schedule for Crohn's disease integrate with your professional responsibilities, and how has your employer supported you in this regard?

Oliver: My management of Crohn's involves bi-monthly infusions and and I have an understanding with work that I'll be unavailable or semi available for that period when I'm getting my infusions in the morning, every other month.That's a brilliant amount of trust to have and it allows me a lot of flexibility, when the hospital can accommodate me. It also allows me to get that infusion which allows me to operate my best.

How has the transition to a remote-first work environment impacted your daily routine, especially in relation to managing a chronic condition like IBD?

Autumn: Simply by being able to work remotely and avoid a commute to a location where I have no control over the physical environment has improved my overall well being but also my productivity. Now if you imagine the worst cold, flu or viral infection that you've ever had, and coupled that with being in a cold, bright, noisy room, that's how I felt most days on site. And because so much energy and attention had to be dedicated to simply surviving and functioning, productivity always came second. Because it had to. But working from home - that's not the case. I have my space set up in a way that suits me and my needs and it can be adjusted based on how I'm feeling. So by not having to commute or physically interact in a space I get far more work done and I feel good while doing it. 

What strategies have you found effective for structuring your day to accommodate both work and health needs?

Oliver: I think three for me are: hydration, nutrition and making sure I get outside for a walk at some point. Or some exercise during the day. I'm fortunate to work remotely, but that still means I get stuck behind the desk, stuck behind a screen in my office for hours on end. Stress is a real trigger for me and causes my Crohn's to flare up. So I need to make sure that I'm properly fueled, properly hydrated and also get outside and get that time away from the desk to properly manage my stress, and also avoid flare ups. 

In what ways do you think companies can improve remote work policies to further support employees with chronic health conditions?

Autumn:  I think it's important to remember that there will never be a one size fits all for remote versus hybrid versus in office work. That said, when companies talk about productivity and creativity of course there are going to be people who thrive in an office setting. But those with serious medical issues, whether it's an autoimmune disease, like myself, chronic pain or something else, are likely to be more productive and creative when they can control the space around them and focus on what they need to manage their unique situation. I've been remote since 2013, which was almost a year to date after my diagnosis. So companies who do not offer remote work will never be on my radar. And as someone who's worked in talent attraction for many years, I know this can create a difficult situation for recruiters and hiring managers as more and more employees are feeling forced to choose between their health and their job.

What advice would you give to someone newly diagnosed with IBD in terms of managing work and health?

Oliver:  I think transparency is key to be open with your employer from the offset in terms of what you're going through and the treatment that you're actually undergoing. I think if your employer isn't empathetic or willing to make adjustments, I would almost be tempted to look elsewhere. The early years of IBD can be particularly challenging, with misdiagnosis and cycles of trying different medications, as you’re trying to find the one that's right for you. This could have a real impact on your work. On your mental and physical health. So I’d keep positive. I'd work with your employer to help them understand and educate them on what you're going through. And also expressed that you're fully committed to them but you need the same from them as an employer. 

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