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Managing your health in the workplace

Mary Ann Stoddard
Job Developer
Employment Action

Melissa Popiel
Coordinator of HIV and Episodic Disabilities Initiatives
Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation

(Two women are sitting at a desk, facing the camera.)

(Title Slide)
Workplace Health Video Series
Managing Your Health in the Workplace
Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation

Melissa: Hello, my name is Melissa Popiel, I’m the Coordinator of HIV and Episodic Disabilities Initiatives with the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation and welcome to the Managing Your Health in the Workplace video for people living with HIV.

Mary Ann: Hi, I’m Mary Ann Stoddard. I’m a Job Developer with Employment Action which is part of the AIDS Committee of Toronto. My clients are people living with HIV/AIDS who wish to return to the workplace and maintain their employment.

Melissa: This video is for people living with HIV who are currently working, or who are looking for full-time or part-time work. Maintaining your health in the workplace is an important factor in feeling personally successful for those who are looking for work and also in looking for balance between your personal and work lives.

During the video, you will gain a better understanding of the following four things. First: getting to know yourself better and your employment interests. Second: preparing for illness and wellness fluctuations as they may come up in the workplace. Third: more effectively managing medications at work. Fourth: maintaining a better work/life balance.

During the video suggestions will be made and shared to assist you with your personal situation and needs. Know that each and every situation is different, so please use those suggestions that are most relevant to your personal situation. At certain points in the video, you will also find Internet links and other relevant resources that can help you with your employment journey.

Employment is so much more than just having a job. We hope that you will find this video helpful in working towards your career and employment goals.

***

Melissa: Know that your HIV status is a part of your life and may or may not impact on your work. There are information and resource supports available to help you along your employment journey.

We will begin now by focusing on getting to know you better. Maintaining good health in the workplace is important for everyone. Information on good practices, understanding how your work affects your health and then acting on these good practices are an important part of helping yourself be well at work.

To begin, here are three tips. First, consider what are you looking for from a job? Are there things like health benefits, social opportunities or career advancement that are important to you? If you were to make a list what would be the highest priorities on this list? If you are not currently working, give some consideration as to what you really want out of any given job. If you are currently working, are you satisfied with your job?

Learning about what you’re looking for from a job may change over time and there may be some trial and error involved in coming to know what it is that you are looking for from a position. But this is okay. Coming to understand what you are looking for in the long-term will reduce disappointments over time.

Next, get to know yourself and your personality better. There are community organizations that can provide personality tests and employment inventories to help you better understand what you are looking for from a job. Many of these services are available for free. You can connect with an employment counsellor near you to find more about what resources may exist in your area.

Next, learn about what your triggers are for stress or what makes you feel overwhelmed. Some stress can be a motivator for all of us and we actually all need some stress in our lives. But each of us has a point where stress becomes overwhelming for us and actually starts to be a demotivator.

All of us have a point where stress becomes too much and impacts how we feel and how well we work. Positive stressors for some people will be negative stressors for others. The factors that cause you stress will be different than what someone else experiences. Understanding what your negative stressors are and how you react to those stressors is important.

Stressors might include: working to a tight deadline, or multi-tasking. If you were to think about it, would these be positive stressors for you, or negative? You may find it helpful to make a list of positive and negative stressors in your workplace.

Lastly, learn what helps you re-focus when you are struggling to stay on task. These might include things like taking a break, or speaking to someone about the challenges that you are experiencing or going out for a walk. A suggestion if you are not sure how to get started with this is just to talk with someone that knows you well, who can give you advice and tips on how you respond to situations, especially the stressful ones.

Now Mary Ann, in your work with clients, what experiences can you share that may be helpful for those that are watching the video?

Mary Ann: Thanks Melissa, you have given some great advice and you reminded me of a client of mine who returned to the paid workforce after a very long gap. Not surprisingly, he was very stressed at the return to work and we were speaking daily on the phone trying to come up with solutions on how he could manage his stress. One day he mentioned that he used to meditate. I suggested that he start meditating again to see if that helped with the stress of the return to work. It was extremely successful. He called me two weeks later and told me he was adjusted well to the job and happy to be there. Two years have passed, and he’s still working there and still happy.

***

Mary Ann: In the previous segment I mentioned the stress of starting a new job. This sort of stress will affect anyone’s health. Everyone who starts a new job is scared. Even if you leave one job on Friday and start a new one on Monday, it’s still going to be a scary experience. We all fear the unknown. The more you know about your workplace and what your employer’s expectations of you are, the less stress you will feel.

Be as prepared as you can be to adapt to your new situation. Make sure all the supports are in place to make sure you can get to work and work effectively.

(Slide) Supports to Consider

Work with your healthcare team to get helpful medical and social supports in place. These supports may include:

  • Primary care
  • Medical specialists
  • Nutritionists
  • Counsellors
  • Other social supports, including housing, social work, child care etc.

Work with your medical team; make sure you have primary care, medical specialists, a nutritionist, counsellors, and other social supports such as housing, social work or childcare.

Know what the policies are in your company for calling in sick or taking a sick leave. Check the company policies yourself so you will know this. Know who you’ll need to phone if you need to call in sick. For more information on government guidelines concerning sick days and sick leave, you can check the website listed at the end of this video, it’s the Service Canada Employment Standards website.

Understand what private and public insurance options may be available to you, including Employment Insurance sick benefits, and provincial drug and health plans. For more information see the video on income supports and health benefit options in this series.

As far as doctor’s appointments go, try and book them during non-work time. If this isn’t possible, give your employer as much advance notice as possible to let them know when you will be off for your doctor’s appointment. Be prepared to change shifts or make up the hours if necessary.

The more knowledge you have of your workplace expectations and your own rights, the more you will feel in control. Be proactive in integrating your medical needs with the expectations of the workplace. This will build your own confidence and also your employer’s trust.

Also remember that advice is available from knowledgeable professionals should you feel that you need it.

***

Melissa: Mary Ann, what suggestions do you have on how to manage your medications at work?

Mary Ann: If you’re taking medication, adhering to your medication schedule is very important, so know in advance how you will integrate taking your medicines with your work day.

If your medication requires refrigeration, go to your employer in advance and arrange for access to a refrigerator. If you take medication that has a side effect that causes you to need the washroom frequently, discuss this with your employer and arrange for a workstation close to a bathroom.

Talk to your pharmacist about what is the most appropriate way to store a daily dosage of medication. If your medicine goes in the fridge, you can keep it in your lunch bag. Just make sure you bring in your lunch bag every morning and bring it home every afternoon.

Some people worry about being able to take their medication in private. If that’s the situation that you have, then look for a private place at work. If nothing else is available, you can always use a washroom stall.

These are just some suggestions to help you take your medicine on schedule while you are at work.

***

Melissa: Determine what your comfort level is in talking about your illness with your co-workers at work. How will you answer personal questions if they arise?

Mary Ann, what suggestions do you have on how to handle those rather personal questions if they come up?

Mary Ann: Thanks, Melissa. Workplace relations should always be civil, professional and respectful. You are not obliged to share personal intimate information with your employer or your co-workers, including information about your diagnosis. If you find that you need to request accommodations from your employer, you will need to disclose that you have a disability. However, you will never need to disclose what that disability is.

Some clients have told me that the most uncomfortable question they are asked is “why are you so thin?” Unfortunately, we live in a culture where the person who is asking that question believes they are delivering a compliment. They don’t realize that that question is as awkward for a slender person as it is if you would ask an overweight person about their size. If you are asked that question, just dismiss it with a general but polite comment like: “this is my body type, the whole family is slender.”

Melissa: Now Mary Ann, what else can you share about feeling comfortable in your workplace?

Mary Ann: I think in order to feel comfortable in the workplace your job has got to be a good fit.

Before you apply for a job, look at the job duties listed on the posting. If any of them seem like they might be a risk to your health, then reconsider applying for that job. The Labour Market Information website listed at the end of this video has general work descriptions and working conditions for many job titles. That might help you get some general information.

If after you begin your job you find that certain tasks are challenging, you can visit your human resources department or talk to your direct supervisor if you work in a company that’s not big enough to have an HR department. Ask for accommodations that will allow you to perform your job comfortably.

If you are in need of accommodations at work, make a specific request for an accommodation and let your employer know that you have a disability or a chronic condition that will not affect your overall performance. Discuss what your needs are for the accommodation and how they can be met. Know that your employer will take your suggestions and make a decision about what is best for everyone involved.

When a problem comes up, look for a solution before it becomes a bigger issue. Go to your employer with a proposed solution. This can help your employer know what your needs and strengths are and build a relationship of trust. Put your best self forward with your employer – not only will this help build the trust of your employer but it will also increase your own comfort level in the workplace and give you a greater likelihood of a good reference later should you need one.

Melissa: Many people find that in addition to caring for their own needs, that they are also caring for the needs of others. If this is your situation, talk with your employer if you have a need for accommodation, as your employer may be able to help you. If you are eligible for Employment Insurance, you may also be eligible for another benefit also offered by the Government of Canada, called the Compassionate Care Benefit. See the Employment Insurance website for more information.

***

Mary Ann: Remember your health comes first and you need to take care of yourself. Your wellness will be affected by physical and emotional factors. Even if you have family members who rely on you, you can only be of assistance to them if you look after yourself first. Here are several suggestions that will help you develop a greater work/life balance.

Always eat well. You can consult the Canada Food Guide if you like. Always get sufficient sleep; this can include altering your sleep schedule to accommodate your new working hours and even maintaining that schedule during weekends.

(Slide) Supports to Consider

Here are several suggestions to help you develop greater work/life balance:

  • Eat well, including consulting the Canada Food Guide
  • Get sufficient sleep, adjusting your sleep schedule before you begin a new job and keeping this schedule on weekends 
  • Develop a social support network
  • Have other activities that you enjoy outside of work 

Develop a social support network to assist you when personal issues arise. Have other activities that you enjoy outside of work. Just as HIV is part of your life, your job is part of your life. It’s not all of it. Have other parts in your life that you enjoy. I’ve known clients who do arts and crafts or have other activities separate from work that they enjoy. One client shopped at garage sales, repaired his finds, and then donated them to the community.

There may be other things that help you keep your work/life balance that you know about. If so, please share these ideas with others on the Episodic Disabilities Employment Network website.

***

Melissa: Look for a job where the environment, culture and behaviours are ones that you are comfortable with. If this is not an option for you now, give some consideration to looking for this type of position when that is an option in the future.

Employment involves so much more than just having a job. As we’ve discussed there are a number of factors to consider in maintaining your health in the workplace.

Please note that the factors discussed here are especially relevant to people living with HIV and have been carefully selected. There may be other factors for you to consider. For more information please contact an employment counsellor near you.

Thank you Mary Ann for being here with us here today and for sharing your comments with us.

For more information on this topic please see the Employment Action website or visit the Episodic Disabilities Employment Network website. Thank you.

(Slide) Additional Resources

(Slide) Additional Resources

Sponsored By:
Mac AIDs Fund Logo
This project is funded in part by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability component.

Realize (formerly CWGHR) also acknowledges the financial support of the Public Health Agency of Canada.
The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of the Public Health Agency of Canada