Working with a chronic disease can be an immense challenge, and the impact of such health conditions on the workforce has only been magnified all the more by the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study conducted by the Work Futures Hallmark Research Initiative, "2023: State of the Future of Work" in Australia.
While the latest general census in Australia showed that 32% of the population (8 million Australians) have at least one long-term health condition, the research found that 38% of the working population in the country suffers from a chronic illness. This disparity is believed to be a result of the pandemic's impact on the health conditions of the workforce, particularly in the realm of mental health.
Life before and after the pandemic
The stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions that have emerged during the pandemic are persisting and impeding the work performance and well-being of many workers in Australia. The pandemic has seemingly created a distinct before-and-after scenario for workers with chronic diseases.
The majority of those surveyed in the research stated that work has become more challenging for them since the health crisis.
Almost half of those with a chronic illness reported feeling less motivated at work and perceiving fewer opportunities for career advancement, while two-thirds of them reported feeling burnt out.
Furthermore, over 40% of individuals with a chronic illness expressed a desire to quit their jobs, which is not surprising given that 54% of them stated that they work harder at their jobs, and 37% reported having less time to complete work tasks due to their health condition.
The data also revealed notable gender differences, with 41% of women compared to 34% of men reporting a chronic health condition. However, there were no significant differences in terms of age. The researchers suggest that there may be an increase in chronic diseases, particularly mental health conditions, among younger people that has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
Reversing the trend
This study, conducted by the University of Melbourne, not only diagnosed the issue but also provided recommendations for measures and labour policies. Some of these recommendations include:
1) Ensuring that workers who manage a long-term health condition have access to flexible working provisions at all stages of the employment cycle
2) Educating employers on how best to identify and support their chronically ill workforce, and integrating this cohort of workers into their diversity and inclusion strategies
3) Encouraging employers to think innovatively about job design during the pre-recruitment phase so that they can attract skilled workers with chronic illness who may not have the capacity to work full time and may require workplace accommodations
Governments should also invest in supporting recruitment programs that specifically focus on engaging chronically ill populations who have a desire to re-enter the workforce, and commission high-quality research into the barriers and enablers of engaging this cohort of workers.