Fibromyalgia and Work
Everyone’s fibromyalgia is different. Some of you will be working full-time, others part-time, and others will have stopped working altogether. Then there will be those who are full-time parents and those who are self-employed; but whatever type of work you’re doing, there are ways to make it easier on yourself.
I’m particularly bad at following my own advice when it comes to work versus health. I always put the needs of my employer before my own and I give work everything I have — and then I give it some more.
So how about we make a deal? If you start following some of my advice, I will too.
Find a Good Employer
This, above all else, is the most important thing for someone working with fibromyalgia. You need to make sure you work for a company that values its employees’ health and well-being.
But how do you know how good they are until you’re in the door? Well, here are some things to look out for.
Check out Their Health and Well-Being Policy
If they don’t have one, get out of there! If they do, ensure it includes an employee assistance program and practical examples of how they support mental and physical health needs. You’re looking for an employer with good values at the heart of the organization.
Look for a Flex-Time Policy, as Opposed to a Flexible Working Policy
Flexible working is the law in the United Kingdom but requires you to justify your requirements and only provides adjustments "within reason." Flex-time shows you that the employer is flexible and will allow you to work around your commitments — as long as you’re doing your hours.
Good Annual Leave and Sick Pay Should Also be Considered
My current employer gives extra annual leave to people who go a year with no sick leave. This tells me that as an employer, they have no awareness of people with long-term health conditions. They are rewarding those who don’t have chronic health issues and are suggesting we as sick people have some control about whether or not we can make it in to work.
Look out for Campaigns or Initiatives the Employer has been Involved In
The "about us" or "news" section of their website will list these. Business in the Community (a U.K. charity supported by Prince Charles) launched the Workwell campaign to encourage employers and employees to be more open about coping with health conditions in the workplace. Participation in these kinds of initiatives speaks volumes.
You need a good employer, but you also need to be a good employee. With a condition like fibromyalgia, people rarely know when you’re struggling unless you tell them.
While the employer needs to create a culture and environment where people can be honest about the challenges they face, you need to embrace that culture and take control.
When you join a new workplace you should take control of your condition and explain to your manager what you need. Don’t lift the box if you can’t, don’t use the keyboard you’re given if you can’t, don’t work the late shift if you can’t.
At work I use a split keyboard and vertical mouse because these things make it a bit easier for me at my desk. My colleague, who suffers from chronic back pain, has a fancy chair with built-in lumbar support. Ask for these things and make sure people know you need that extra help.