Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Take best advantage of people with chronic conditions

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-02-19

Bill Shorten’s announcement "New strategy to get people with disability or mental illness into work" (2008-02-15) raises a couple of worthwhile issues that are not immediately obvious.  Hopefully this will lead to improved policy.

Here are a couple of issues that caught my attention:

  • the unpredictable nature of some disabilities and illnesses;
  • the costs associated with managing a disability
  • explore innovative and creative ways to help people with disability and mental illness gain and retain work.

Unpredictability is one of the major hurdles facing potential employees.  In some respects, there are similarities to workforce management with those who may (or may not) have children, or when people (or their kids) suddenly come down with the flu, which may suggest management models.  I’d break this up into two categories that need different management strategies:

  1. Disease Trajectories:
    Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson’s are examples of conditions that will stay at a certain stage for an indeterminate time, perhaps months, perhaps decades.
  2. Acute Changes:
    Epileptics (I’m one) have "dodgy days" which are only mildly predictable (e.g. more likely in hot weather), and can either lead to time off (sometimes so out-of-it you cannot phone in), or with diminished capacity (need to be more careful and thus work slowly, or cut down hours for a couple of days).

These issues do not necessarily mean that only menial tasks are suitable – indeed, with physical constraints, high-level knowledge work is often the only choice.

This unpredictability is only at the level of the individual, while the net capacities of a large cohort are entirely predictable.  In some respects, a large pool of employees prone to acute episodes scattered throughout the year is a simpler to manage than the clusters of significant absenteeism and diminished productivity caused by flu epidemics.

Private enterprise, especially small and medium businesses, are less able to adapt to these unpredictabilities, and are also less able to take best advantage of the significant and often high-level skills available from such employees.

This suggests that government agencies, able to "pool" capabilities of those with chronic conditions, are the most suitable vehicles for increasing utilization, rather than mere participation.

In simplistic terms, in a large workforce, statistics will allow reasonable planning and outcomes.  In a group of employees with likelyhood of x% time off, n*(1+x%) employees will supply the same resources, at much less than the cost of lost national production and increase in social security benefits than if those people remain unemployed.

It’s also important to realize that those with chronic issues are sometimes more suitable than the average person for work in the public service because such conditions naturally make you more sympathetic to the public, provide greater understanding of the benefits of having a good government sector, and less able to maintain the aggressive or exploitative attitudes required in the private sector.

The similarities between the unpredictable impact of pregnancy and child rearing (and the theoretical requirement for non-discrimination against fertile women), the impact of stress-related crises of key individuals, or sudden significant impact of an epidemic, suggests we have the capacity within large organizations to make maximum use, at minimal cost, of the capacities of the many people that are affected by difficult-to-predict chronic conditions.

As noted, government, the largest organization in the country, able to take advantage of statistical averages, is the most appropriate employer of people with chronic issues, or even temporary issues (such as a couple of broken legs).  This would be made easier if members of the pool can be assigned to cover each other, moving between agencies on an ad hoc basis.



One Response to “Take best advantage of people with chronic conditions”

  1. […] (relates UN convention ratification inquiry to the workplaces issues) […]

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