Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a serious, long-term condition, so how do I manage an employee with IBS? IBS can cause disability and disrupts the working lives of many. Around 10-20% of the UK population live with IBS, this represents a significant number who are affected in the workplace. Britain’s businesses estimate they lose almost £3 billion every year through sick days related to gut health.
As an employer, you may be unaware of IBS and its debilitating effects on those who have the condition. Understanding ways in which you can help your staff who have IBS will allow them to continue working to their full capacity. Be aware that stress is often an important factor in those with IBS. If they feel unable to approach you, it might make their condition worse. Although you may find it a little uncomfortable at first, talk to your employee about what you can do to support them.
Workplace changes to consider flexible working, provide easy access to toilets, allow your employee to take regular work breaks, and ensure effective monitoring and management of workload.
Am I Obliged to Make Special Allowances for Them?
If an employee’s IBS impacts on their day-to-day abilities, it may be deemed to amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This means that, as an employer, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate them at work, if needed and practical to do so. You may need to obtain medical information from your employee if you are unsure on how to assist them and potentially making the necessary adjustments to the workplace.
Fit for Work
The Government-funded initiative, Fit for Work, provides a free support service and for employers, employees and GPs to help those who are in work or off sick. More information can be found at: http://fitforwork.org
If you have an employee with IBS, they may have needed to take time off when their symptoms have been particularly severe. Travelling to and from work and to meetings can be very challenging too. They could possibly feel uncomfortable, embarrassed or humiliated when explaining their condition to you. However, it may help alleviate some of their anxiety if you encourage them to explain their condition with a trusted manager. After all, we cannot support employees if employers do not know.
Ways you can make suggestions to help improve your employees work life:
- Everyone’s IBS symptoms and triggers are unique to them. The IBS Network has created a fully comprehensive IBS Self-Care Programme to help manage your IBS, at: www.theibsnetwork.org/the-self-care-plan
- Managing stress and anxiety. It might be embarrassing but trying to keep IBS a secret can potentially worsen the stress and anxiety.
- Diet and eating at work. The IBS Network website has extensive information on diet, recipes and food related topics to help people manage their IBS. https://www.theibsnetwork.org/diet
If you do have an employee who has come to you explaining their condition, there are some things they could be doing to help manage their condition:
- get up early enough to allow plenty of time for breakfast and to go to the toilet before work.
- take a proper lunch break and avoid eating meals on the run.
- prepare your own food so you know what it contains and the portion sizes.
- don’t skip meals to avoid having to go to the toilet.
- to avoid dehydration and constipation, aim to drink at least eight cups of fluid per day. Especially water or other non-caffeinated drinks.
Treatment and Being Prepared
Learn to manage your IBS symptoms through diet, stress management and medicines. However, there is no single cure or single drug to treat IBS. Keeping a supply of IBS medication within easy reach may help. Keep some wipes and anything else they may need during an attack. There are IBS Emergency Kits available that can be kept about a person discreetly.
If you wish to discuss how you can manage an employee with IBS further then please contact us on 01706 565332. Or drop us an email and we’ll get right back to you.
Metis HR is a professional HR Consultancy based in the North West of England supporting clients across the country. We specialise in providing outsourced HR services to small and medium-sized businesses. Call us now on 01706 565332 to discuss how we may help you.