How To Create An Inclusive Work Culture For People With Disabling Long-Term Health Conditions

A new report from EY and University of East Anglia on inclusive work culture has highlighted compelling evidence on how to most effectively support people with ‘disabling, long-term health conditions’ at work.

Led by Talent Director and friend to Astriid Emma Mitchell, and based on research by Helen Musgrove, the report explores how an inclusive workplace culture can help people to feel safe in discussing their health condition and access the support and adjustments they require:

“Health and ill-health is a universal feature of being human, and evidence suggests that work can be good for health as well as social inclusion. However, individuals with a disabling long-term health condition are too often unable to find or sustain employment. The employment rate for disabled people of working age is only 51.3%, compared to 81.6% for those with a non-disabling health condition and 81.2% for those with no health condition. 33% of employees with a long-term health condition have not discussed it with their employer. 

Yet providing effective workplace support to individuals with health conditions can bring a range of benefits including employee health, wellbeing, engagement, and performance, and organisational retention, engagement, representation, and reputation. There’s also value to the wider economy — some 131 million days are lost each year to sickness absence in the UK, and the combined annual cost to the economy from worklessness and sickness absence is approximately £100 billion.”

The report therefore aims to provide helpful, practical advice around inclusive work culture for senior leaders, HR professionals and line managers, especially in large organisations. The key drivers for change from the report were identified as:

Inclusive Culture – creating a sense of belonging through positive and informed leadership, mutual respect around disability inclusion from the whole workforce, and creating enabling systems that reduce the number of barriers that people with disabling, long-term conditions face in existing organisational structures. They also make the case for increased data and reporting, such as the prevalence of long-term conditions in the workforce and disclosure rates.

Employee Network providing support and advocacy – employees should feel safe to access support from others in their network, especially those with similar lived experiences. These networks can enhance existing HR support and give people a platform to raise the issues that affect them, and employees should be recognised for their contribution in any such forums.

Educated, empowered, and supportive managers – the social attitude of managers plays a critical role in how perceptions towards long-term conditions are shaped throughout the rest of the organisation. Previous research by Astriid found that 89% of respondents with chronic illness felt their line manager could be better informed about managing people with such conditions, and realistic steps for achieving this are highlighted in this new report. Managers should be supportive and empathetic, and should also be able to use managerial discretion to tailor support and adjustments according to individuals’ circumstances. To facilitate this, managers should have access to disability awareness training and if desired, a supportive and trusting working relationship with a partner in HR.

Individualised and tailored adjustments, focussed on strengths – the most useful adjustments are designed around a person’s individual circumstances, and roles should take into account a person’s strengths and how they perform best. Previous research findings from Astriid highlighted that many people face difficulties in communicating their needs and accessing appropriate support. These findings confirm that employers should avoid making assumptions about any individual’s capabilities, and instead facilitate timely and professional access to any identified support routes.

Autonomy to work flexibly – a sustainable role is one which gives the person the autonomy to work flexibly, including the possibility of reduced hours and working from home. This can bring not only physiological benefits, but psychological benefits too – something that was prevalent in participant responses in our own research findings, especially on issues such as work-life balance with an Energy Limiting Condition. Employers and employees should establish performance expectations collaboratively and maintain regular contact to mitigate the risk of somebody potentially working excessive hours to compensate for a fluctuating condition, and reduce isolation from extended periods of working away from the wider team.


You can find out more about the study’s inclusive work culture findings and read the report online via Evolve Workplace Wellbeing’s website. You can also read Astriid’s own research findings in our 2021 Invisible Talent Pool report. Look out for new research and partnership opportunities via Astriid Consulting in the near future!