Invisible Disability – The Trillion Dollar Problem.

More than a trillion dollars. That’s how much chronic illnesses and invisible disabilities cost organizations in the United States in 2007. These numbers are expected to quadruple by 2030. 

 A trillion dollars makes the mind boggle. That’s a million million.  With that amount of money, you could pay all of the rent cheques in the United States for three years!

You would think with so much at stake that our business and political leaders would take more of an interest in better engaging people with chronic illness. Not all of this money needs to be lost.

 A significant amount of this trillion-dollar productivity loss is due to presenteeism, where people show up for work but are not productive during their time on the job.  While many companies track absenteeism quite closely, the quality and quantity of the work and the engagement of the employee are not always measured.

To illustrate why this is a problem, let us look at a 2010 survey of workers with invisible disabilities in Canada. The study was called Patient’s Voice and it was published through Benefits Canada Magazine.  In it, 80 percent of chronically ill workers that were surveyed said they went into work even when they were not feeling well. 

This shocked a doctor on the expert panel that analyzed the data, but I don’t think this surprises anyone who has had a serious chronic illness. The fact is that many of us come into work sick because it is expected of us and taking too many days off can quickly kill a promising career. 

In our North American culture, there is often skepticism about workers who call in sick more than a few days a year. The assumption is that these workers are uncommitted or lazy. 

While there are some people who may take sick days when they are not truly sick, we know that the opposite is also true.  Many employees come into work beset by issues such as pain, fatigue and nausea that may significantly affect their productivity on the job.

Here are some of the challenges related to invisible disability:

  • The invisible nature of the problem makes it challenging to deal with.
  • Employees generally do not tell their employers about their illness because they worry about being stigmatized or losing their jobs.
  • Many of these same people do not monitor or attend to their illness (i.e. take their proper medications etc.) while at work.
  • Many organizations are still slow to offer flexible, results-oriented work arrangements that will allow employees to work more efficiently.

We know that chronic illness currently keeps many employees from being fully engaged and productive.  However, by finding ways to better engage these employees, organizations can realize significant savings going forward.


Want to better engage your employees with invisible disabilities? Click here to contact Jason today.

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