May the 19th is the World IBD Day: a day when thousands of people unite and organise events across the world to make ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease visible to the world. In our post today we want to focus on this year’s motto, #makeIBDwork, and talk about how IBD impacts the work environment. Because, although people enduring IBD have to make modifications in their day to day life, sometimes the workspace can require some special adjustments. Furthermore, there are two clear protagonists in this story: the employers and the workers with IBD. So, we want to leave some useful tips for both of them.

One of my employees has IBD, how can I help the most?

If you are an employer, and a worker tells you that they suffer IBD, it’s very likely that you are new to the term. IBD is the acronym for Inflammatory Bowel Disease. IBD is an umbrella term that cover to different diseases: Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease. Both are caused by inflammation, swelling and ulceration in the intestines, and produce symptoms like diarrhoea, urgent or frequent need to go to the toilet, abdominal pain…

Our first tip is to listen to your employees. They have been living with IBD for a long time, and they know what works best for them. It’s important to know that IBD affects different people in different ways: some have to go to the bathroom more often than others; the trigger foods (foods that trigger a flare-up, or a rise in symptoms) are varied and different for each person; and some people have ostomies, while others don’t. And so, creating a welcoming and confident environment is important, so your employees can talk openly and can let you know their needs.

Other than that, there are some general recommendations that you can follow. Setting their work desk nearer to the bathroom is a small gesture that can help greatly. Another step is to allow them to have flexible hours. This is especially important in the mornings, when IBD patients may have flare-up symptoms or experience morning fatigue. In that context, having the flexibility to come in a little bit later and leave later as well can mark a great difference.

The flexibility doesn’t apply only to working hours. As IBD affects the digestive system, eating habits of people with IBD differ: to avoid overloading the intestine, they tend to eat smaller, more frequent meals. This is for two reasons: the food is better tolerated this way, having less symptoms, and this intermittent eating pattern can help increase the amount of nutrition you receive in a day. So, flexibility should also apply to lunch breaks.

As an employer, you may be worried about how IBD could impact the performance. However, several surveys, like this employment survey by the Crohn’s and Colitis foundation in the UK, found that workers with IBD scored a higher productivity than the general healthy population. That’s because more than half of the respondents reported giving more effort at work to make up for any shortcomings which might result from their IBD.

I have just been diagnosed with IBD, how can it impact my work life?

If you have just been diagnosed, you will find that you have to make some adjustments in your daily life, and that also includes your work environment. For example, you can expect to need to take some time off work. At least, that’s what a survey conducted by the European Federation of Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis Associations suggests: 74% of the survey participants said they had taken some time off due to fatigue caused by IBD. However, this didn’t impact their work dearly, as 3 out of 4 participants declared that they haven’t received complaints or unfair comments about their performance.

Being open about your diagnosis at work can also ease the day to day. It enables your employer to make the necessary adjustments and will help your colleagues to understand the situation. If you are unsure about disclosing your condition at work, it may help to talk with your boss while having a colleague present for support. Organisations like the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation or the European Federation of Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis Associations recommend talking about IBD at work, as hiding symptoms can be a strain and talking about it could help alleviate the pressure.

Talking about pressure: stress can play a role in IBD, making you more prone to flare-ups. Managing stress in the work environment can be hard, but there are multiple ways to do it: relaxation techniques, mindfulness, reallocating tasks… Some people choose to reduce the workload by getting a reduction of the working hours. If you need it, seek psychological assistance as well, since IBD can also take a toll in our mental health.

We want to close our post with the remarks of someone that has experienced both sides of this post: Hank Green. He endures IBD and runs the company Complexly, the creative agency behind some of the most successful educational Youtube channels. He found that after the diagnosis, “you will lose normal and you will have a new normal”. We hope that our post helped you to find a better normal in your work.

For IBD patients

For employers

For both