How to Create an Inclusive Workplace for Employees with Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition of the central nervous system, which interferes with nerve impulses within the optic nerves, spinal cord and brain.

World MS Day is officially marked on May 30 every year and aims to raise awareness of the invisible symptoms of MS and its unseen impact on quality of life.

With World MS Day approaching, we thought that there’s no better time to discuss the impact of MS on employees and how the can be best supported in the workplace.

But first, what is MS and how does it impact employees?

MS varies between every employee. For this reason, there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy for managing MS in the workplace.

MS is the most common neurological conditions that affects adults in Australia and is typically diagnosed when people are aged in their 20s or 30s. According to MS Australia, MS affects over 25,600 Australians.

Since it’s a disease of the central nervous system, employees with MS may experience a variety of symptoms. For this reason, some employees may not require additional changes to be made to their working conditions or role, while others may benefit largely from adjustments.

The challenge is that the most common symptoms of MS are usually invisible. Such symptoms include sensory issues (including numbness, pins and needles, and tingling), neuropathic pain, mobility and balance challenges, fatigue and a range of others.

According to MS Australia, the condition is defined in Australia as a disability under equality law. Therefore, as an employer, you have a responsibility to any current or future employees with MS.

Many employees with MS are able to continue working long after diagnosis. Proving a supportive workplace assists in enabling them to remain in the workforce.

Since the majority of diagnosis occurs when the person is still employed, these employees have a wealth of knowledge and expertise to contribute to the organisation.

It’s vital to have a close look at how MS impacts an employee’s ability to do their job and how they can best be supported in the workplace. We’ve outlined three strategies to help you get started below.

1. Have a conversation!

No two employees with MS are the same. For this reason, it is often challenging to predict how the condition will impact the employee.

A good strategy for addressing this is to have open conversions to find out how they can be best supported in the workplace and to ask any questions you have. The support the employee require depends greatly on how the condition impacts them, their job and abilities as well as their coping strategies.

These conversations should occur when needed. It’s offers a great opportunity for you to ask if they need different support. These types of conversations can assist in building a relationship that they can trust you.

In saying this, it’s vial to respect their ability to manage their condition and to trust their self-evaluation. You may like to encourage them to contribute to decision surrounding future responsibilities and roles.

2. Make Changes to Your Workplace

There are a variety of changes that you can implement that costs very little to implement.

Such changes may include:

  • Provide an option to work flexibly – e.g. flexible or reduced working hours, opportunity to work from home and to take time off for health care appointments.
  • Change their work environment – e.g. change the location of their work station (perhaps to a cooler area of the office), providing a more comfortable chair to sit on, putting a fan on their desk.
  • Make organisational adjustments – e.g. giving an employee with MS a parking space close to the entrance of your workplace, providing easy access to refrigerator for cooling products and having a space in the office to rest for short periods while at work.

Making these small adjustments allows an employee with MS to feel more supported in the workplace. Most importantly, it can improve their wellbeing and productivity, which has a range of benefits across your organisation.

3. Protect their Privacy

As an employer, it’s really important that you protect your employee’s privacy, regardless of their circumstances. For an employee with MS, this means ensuring that any information that they share with you about their condition is kept confidential.

If you are required to share this information to comply with health and safety requirements or tendering for a contract, it’s vital to disclose this information in a way that safeguards the employee’s privacy.

Fostering a supportive, diverse and inclusive workplace benefits all employees. The above strategies can assist in retaining skilled employees with MS in your workplace. As you can see, these adjustments are minimal and should not affect the profitability of your organisation.

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