Keenan Blog

The goal of the Keenan Blog is to provide a forum where we can come together to discuss issues and cultivate the solutions that will have a meaningful impact on your organization.

Are You Jaded?

Kathy Espinoza 5/13/2014
Kathy Espinoza

When I took my first Risk Management course, the instructor said, “The most important thing to remember in this field is don’t become jaded.”  At the time, I thought it was a bizarre comment and I took it to mean don’t become uncaring or so involved with the process that you forget about the people.

Sitting in a conference audience a few weeks ago, I fully realized what my instructor meant by “don’t become jaded”. The speaker was describing their organization’s biggest challenges, which were injuries coming from their office staff. I thought that was good news for me as an ergonomist because rearranging office environments to make employees more comfortable is what I do best.

FibromyalgiaBut as he continued on, I realized there was a much larger issue going on. He spoke about how the organization needed to be on the lookout for the latest ‘diseases of this decade.’ He talked about issues that were not ‘hard’ science, ones that don’t show up on x-rays or scans. Fibromyalgia was one of his biggest ‘concerns.’ He used statements like, “until we can dispute its validity, we have to accommodate it”.  He also mentioned post traumatic stress as a ‘fluff’ disorder.

Let me assure you, there are many workers with issues that cannot be found on an x-ray, seen just by looking at the person and they are very real.  They are not the ‘illness de jour’ he seemed to imply but rather ‘life altering’ events. Having had cancer four times, it’s tough when you have ‘invisible’ issues. Workers with Crohn’s disease worry about getting to a bathroom in time and those with fibromyalgia cannot predict their next flare up and pray it doesn’t happen on a work day.

To illustrate, here are a few cases of ‘invisible’ issues with some of the possible accommodations:

Case 1:  An administrative assistant with fibromyalgia reported neck pain and upper body fatigue. She was accommodated with a telephone headset to reduce neck pain, a portable angled writing surface and writing, a copy holder to secure documents, and forearm supports to use when typing.

Case 2:  A nurse with fibromyalgia working in a county health clinic experienced a great deal of fatigue and pain at work.  Accommodation suggestions included changing her shift from evenings to days, not scheduling consecutive twelve-hour shifts, reducing her hours to part time, and taking frequent rest breaks.

Case 3:  A guidance counselor for a large high school experienced severe bouts of irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and fatigue as a result of fibromyalgia.  The employer moved the employee’s office closer to the faculty restroom, added an automatic entry system to the main doors, and allowed flexible leave time so the employee could keep appointments with his therapist.

Next year, I will be presenting on “Accommodating the Differently-Abled Worker.” What amazes me most is that no matter how many accommodation tips I offer to help the workforce, I might never change the minds of those who are hardened and ‘jaded’. Remember that reasonable accommodations can also benefit the employer when they help an experienced employee remain productive in their work on a daily basis.