There are a lot of things in life that cause stress. It can be a major life event or anxiety about something relatively small. The workplace is one of the most common causes of chronic stress for adults in the United States. Within the workplace 6% of people are stressed about their job security. Twenty percent are stressed about their ability to juggle their work and their personal lives. Twenty-eight percent of workers are stressed about dealing with other people on the job including coworkers, managers, and customers. And finally, 46% of working adults are stressed about their actual day-to-day job duties and workload.
The workplace can also be a dangerous place. Workplace injuries can cause or exacerbate chronic pain. Even repetitive work or sitting at a desk can lead to long-term issues such as carpel tunnel syndrome and lower back pain. According to this paper, pain is the number one cause of disability for workers. Companies lose nearly three billion dollars a year due to loss of productivity and medical expenses. The article continues with information about working when you are dealing with chronic pain and the fact that so many professionals push themselves past their limits to prove they are just as good as everyone else. And this habit of human nature may be causing long-term harm.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created to protect workers on the job. The Act was designed to discourage discrimination based on health and ability in the workplace. One of the primary issues with chronic pain and workplace accessibility is that conditions are often invisible. On one hand, this means the individual can avoid disclosing their condition in order to appear more normal and on the other it means that employers have a hard time recognizing what is and isn’t a valid disability under the ADA. Both of these issues lead to challenges with accessibility on the job when it comes to chronic pain conditions. It is easy to provide ramps and accessible spaces to a worker in a wheelchair but less obvious to find ways to accommodate someone with fibromyalgia.
It is important to recognize that the ADA does not provide a specific list of disabilities that it considers qualifying but rather a general definition of disability under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This means that some people with chronic pain conditions will meet the criteria but others may not.
But there is good news. Many workplaces are recognizing their role in providing the right reasonable accommodations for their employees.
Your rights as a worker
The keyword when it comes to the ADA is “reasonable.” The accommodations to assist an employee perform their job must not cause any undue hardship on the company. Also, it is important for the worker to be qualified for the specific job. For example, if a warehouse position requires repetitive lifting of items over 50 pounds and someone is unable to lift this much even when a back brace and hand truck are provided, they would not be considered qualified for the job even when accommodations are made.
There are many possible accommodations that are considered reasonable. They may include:
- Modifying desks and other office equipment to make them easier to access
- Allowing reasonable additional unpaid time off to seek medical treatment
- Allowing a service animal into the workplace
- Moving the workstation closer to the restrooms to provide easier access
- Scheduling periodic breaks away from the workstation to help relieve tension
- Implementing ergonomics to make a workstation as comfortable as possible
Feeling trapped and getting past the fear
There may be another, more controversial solution for the issue of workplace stress and how it may exacerbate chronic pain.
Conventional wisdom says you should never quit a job without having another job. What if conventional wisdom is wrong? Quitting isn’t failure; it is recognizing that the situation you’re in is not conducive to maintaining your health. Most people don’t quit a job they hate and take a chance because they are afraid of the unknown. They are also told that it is easier to find a job when you’re employed. In some cases this may be true. However, if you’re dealing with stress on a daily basis, your pain is increasing, and you don’t have the energy to look for a new job it will only get harder to make a change. There are so many practical reasons to keep a job such as maintaining an employer provided health insurance policy or a retirement plan, but with a little work and planning these obstacles can be overcome.
How to make a plan to leave
- Consider work from home options: Location independence is a movement about making a living from anywhere in the world. Some people who embrace this lifestyle are called tech nomads who work in IT or are entrepreneurs. Others might be freelance writers or event planners. Create a plan of things you can and want to do from home and evaluate how you will market yourself and earn a living.
- Develop a plan for insurance and healthcare: Of course, when talking about living with chronic pain you have to worry about your access to proper healthcare. Do you qualify for a plan through the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? Are you eligible for Medicare or Medicaid? Does a private insurer make sense? Does your condition respond positively to alternative treatments not covered by traditional insurance?
- Evaluate your finances: Next, you need to have a plan for your finances. How much do you need to make to maintain your current lifestyle? Can you adjust your current lifestyle and downsize? Can you pay off your debts and reduce your expenses?
- Take the leap: Finally, at some point you need to simply take that leap of faith even if you don’t have a net. Surround yourself with positive people and take that first step into the unknown.
Is your job leaving you so stressed that you come home in tears more often than not? How can you make a change?
Image by Quinn Dombrowski via Flickr