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Working With Chronic Illness: Starting Your New Job

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You did it — you landed a new job! Way to go!

It’s an exciting time, but something like this can also bring stress and/or anxiety, maybe a flare-up, because it is new. Let’s dive into things to think about when starting a new job with a chronic illness, so you’re ready to go!

Consider What You Need for Working With a Chronic Illness

It’s time to determine what you need to have at your disposal while working — during a good day or a bad day and whether you’re working remotely or in person.  

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Here are some things to get you started:

Biggest comfort items

  • TENS Unit for those bad pain days. 
  • Heating pad because I always need one available. 
  • Thermacare heat patches.
  • OTC meds/supplements, prescriptions, creams, or topicals. 
  • Cozy socks and peppermint tea for comfort.
  • Nausea-friendly or condition-specific snacks. Think: broth, dry cereal, items free of designated food allergies, etc.
  • Essential oil inhalers — allow you to smell them for the benefits without forcing others to smell them compared to oils. 

What changes if you have a bad day?

Is what you’re missing visible, loud, aromatic, etc.? If it is, prepare a quick blurb around it to ease any nerves if you have to explain it to someone.

Set a Plan for Day 1

Most employers have an official onboarding process, which is sometimes shared during the interview phases but not always. Don’t be afraid to ask your new job contact what your first day will look like, and here are some valuable things to ask about if they don’t include it. 

What is your new job’s dress code like?

  • Professional or casual
  • Shoes (Think: closed toe, comfortable, high traction, etc.)
  • Anything else to be aware of — such as temperature control, your designated space runs hot/cold, etc.

Ask for an Onboarding Buddy or Mentor:

  • By having an assigned buddy, you can have a point person to help you adjust to your new workplace 
  • They can help with the following: Give you a tour of the facility if you’re not working remotely, answer simple questions daily, be a friendly face that can introduce you to your team, and assist you with clarifying anything confusing during your onboarding. 
  • This saves you the stress/worry/anxiety by taking the pressure off of having to meet new coworkers yourself — starting a new job is scary enough! 

How to Make Sure Your Accommodations Will Be Met

It always seems easier to ask for what you need from the beginning, but again, this comes with hesitation if you haven’t disclosed your chronic illness yet. This is such a personal choice, with no right or wrong answer. 

Consider what will happen if you don’t communicate your needs up front, and could that ultimately set you up for failure in any way? 

There tends to be this line of thought that if “I prove my worth as a productive employee,” the employer will be more receptive to granting me accommodations. 

From my personal experience, I’ve been upfront about having endometriosis for the past few roles, and it’s honestly helped me more than not disclosing. It’s allowed me to scale workloads when I needed it most, take time off for surgeries without the fear of losing my job during recovery, along with making sure the job I wanted to accept could fit my needs/abilities. 

All that said, here are some job accommodations to consider:  

  • Reserved parking if you need it (or ensuring disability spaces are plentiful) 
  • Ramps, elevator access, limited stairs, or request to be placed on a ground level, bathroom stall sizes/privacy options, be placed in a private office/cubicle/open collab space with others. 
  • Kitchen setup and space to bring what you need for any dietary needs, access to a fridge (if you need to store insulin or food), etc.
  • If you experience migraines, ask if there’s a quiet/dark/private room you can access as needed. 
  • What about technology needs? Think: Screen readers/magnifiers, speech input/voice recognition software, assistive keyboard, braille-friendly devices, etc.  
  • Always work with Human Resources to maintain confidentiality. They’re usually super familiar with what they have available to accommodate you or how to approach getting what you may need, along with knowing laws around subjects such as the ADA, HIPAA, and employee rights.

What if I realize I need something to be successful later on?

Not a big deal at all! Sometimes doing our job for a few weeks or months can open our eyes to things we missed up front. This doesn’t make you a failure by any means. Instead, look at this as an area of career growth. 

You’re discovering what you need to be successful working with a chronic illness — that’s something to take pride in! 

If you find yourself in this situation, reach out to your human resource team or manager to ask to meet with them to discuss some accommodations that could help improve your performance and maintain your health. 

If you need something to succeed at work with chronic illness, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. 

There may be times when a request may cost too much money, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily off the table, you may be able to find a compromise around it. 

This area takes open and honest communication, which can be hard as it places us in a state of vulnerability, but it might be necessary at some point in your career. You can also chat with your healthcare team if you feel any documentation would assist you with granting requests and help back up what you need and why. 

Whew, we went through a lot! It’s time to go crush your first day — and know that we’re cheering you on!

This article is part of a series on Working With Chronic Illness. Read more here:

Originally published: September 5, 2022
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