Alongside, winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003 and a successful media career. Matt’s business career with Instant is flourishing
In this, the latest in a series of blogs, Matt discusses how his diagnosis with Lyme disease had an impact on his life in the workplace and how he tried to combat it.
As you might have seen in the press recently, I have been trying to raise awareness of Lyme disease, a surprisingly common but little known illness spread by tick bites.
I was bitten by a tick in a London park nearly two years ago now, and have required two heart surgeries to address my recovery. This was due in part to a late diagnosis and in many ways due to a lack of understanding about the disease and what can be done to combat it.
I am now free of the disease, but having to take daily medication to aid in the recovery of my heart, however a long-term illness has an inevitable effect on your work and the ability to perform well.
According to the 2013 Labour Force Survey, of the 7.2 million people aged 50–64 who are employed, 42% are living with a health condition or disability.
Long-term conditions are more prevalent in older people (58 per cent of people over 60 compared to 14 per cent under 40) and in more deprived groups (people in the poorest social class have a 60 per cent higher prevalence than those in different social classes).
There is also the issue of mental health – I reference this in particular as one of the symptoms for many people with Lyme disease is anxiety – and while this is recognised as being an issue, the information out there probably greatly underestimates the issue.
What are the main reasons for employee sickness? According to the Office of National Statistics, in descending order the leading causes of sickness absence in the UK are:
- Musculoskeletal conditions – i.e. neck and back pain (31 million days lost)
- Minor illnesses like the common cold (27 million days lost)
- Mental health issues including depression, anxiety and stress (15 million days lost)
That is a lot of time and a lot of money!
Wellness is increasingly being recognised as a key issue and being addressed by employers as part of their workplace strategy.
And, regardless of the type of illness, it is important to prioritise your health, as I know now all too well. For example, there are little things we can do every day to help:
Keep moving – avoid sitting at your desk for 9 hours straight each day and try to get up and walk around:
"Moving around throughout your workday is really important," says Robert Graham, MD, director of integrative health and wellness for Northwell Health System, in Great Neck, NY. "Not only is it good for you physically, but studies show that it can increase productivity and more likely to focus on the task at hand."
Don’t eat at your desk:
It helps to reset your brain, enabling an afternoon of productivity
You are more likely to overeat if sat at your desk which could have further effects on health
And it is simply important to take some time out of your day to recharge
People with windows in their offices get better sleep and are more physically active than those without, according to a 2013 study from Northwestern University.
Manage stress properly:
About 15.2 million days were lost because of mental health problems like stress, depression and anxiety in 2013, according to the NHS
Thing such as meditation during the day, or deep-breathing at available times, have been recommended to help combat stress
If you need adjustments – speak to your manager:
Whether it is to adjust working times, areas, etc – it’s best to speak with your manager to discuss how they can help accommodate and balance your work life and health issues
Think about your day-to-day options when it comes to hours:
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the HR team or your managers. It is what they are there for, and will have experience and training to help address the issues you are facing. They should be able to discuss any adjustments that may need to be made to ensure a comfortable return to work. They will also ensure there is balance between the health issues and the work you are able to do. They should focus on your abilities and resources rather than any limitations or restrictions.
From my perspective, sleep is paramount to those recovering from Lyme disease, and it was necessary to re-assess my working hours to get more balance and simply get some rest in – something which is easier said than done for father of two, young boys! But looking at your working schedule and even changing your routine for a bit, can be a great help.
There are a surprisingly large number of people suffering from significant health issues in the workplace, both mental and physical. It is important that we talk about them and, if you are suffering, make sure you get help as that is going to speed up your recovery in the long-run.