Workplace Health:  Supporting the Disabilities We Can’t See

Workplace Health: Supporting the Disabilities We Can’t See

A couple months ago I attended Disability Allyship: Advocation for Abilities, an event sponsored by Breaking.Glass. This one-day conference was focused on disabilities in the workplace and employees with disabilities. Some employees come to the workplace with a disability, others may develop a disability while working. Some have a disability that we can see, others may have a hidden disabilities.

Being a person who studies health care and its cost, I’ve paid particular attention to the cost of disability. I think sometimes we expect these costs to show up as a worker’s compensation or disability claim. Of course it does, but what about the disability that we just haven’t seen yet. The type that develops from too much sitting, too much typing, and too much stress. Essentially all the challenges that are often put upon our employees everyday.

Years ago, early in my work career, I began to develop pain in my left elbow. The pain was related to all the typing and computer work that I was doing. My elbow would be sore and swollen and I would keep working. I sought the help of doctors who suggested surgery (which I was not interested in pursuing) or simply reducing the amount of work I did (again I wasn’t interested), or begin to lean on alternative support such as voice dictation. The way I chose to NOT help myself at work was by NOT raising my hand to ask for an accommodation such as voice dictation software or a more comfortable desk set-up. I chose instead, to avoid any hint that I may be on the brink of filing a worker’s compensation claim or too weak to do my job. I’d spend my spare time roaming around the office looking for more comfortable chairs that weren’t being used or making a makeshift sit / stand desk out of books and boxes.

Lucky for me after years of just dealing with this pain I connected with a chiropractor and acupuncturist that fixed my elbow within a relatively short period of time. I was lucky.

Recently I met Michelle who was not quite as lucky.  Michelle worked for years and spent many hours on the computer. She was a “go-getter” and loved the work that she was doing. As a result, she worked despite the pain in her arms, wrists, and neck until finally, one day, her arms and fingers completely froze up and she was unable to type another letter! This sent Michelle on a long journey of worker’s compensation, surgeries, disability, and depression.

She eventually was able to work again, with accommodations, which then sent her on a new journey of learning to engage with potential employers when you have a hidden disability. All of this being complicated by her own and other’s opinions and insecurities related to hiring people with disabilities.

So where do the hidden disabilities reside in our populations?  Are we seeing them in our healthcare data? Are we noticing them before they become disabilities?   What about depression, anxiety, back issues, wrists problems? Do we have policies and the culture in place to make it easy for our employees to ask for help?

  • 10% of Americans have a medical condition which could be considered a hidden disability.
  • 96% of people with chronic medical conditions live with a condition that is hidden.
  • 25% of them have some type of activity limitation, ranging from mild to severe.

The cost to an employer for a disability accommodation averages $500. The cost of a disability is much more!

If you’re looking to build a more supportive organization and more well-rounded health approach, here is list of some wonderful resources on disabilities in the workplace. Please also share your own.

Why We Hate Going to the Gym

Why We Hate Going to the Gym

Designing workout programs can always lead to better outcomes when we pause and look around us and look at ourselves.  I was running errands today and passed by a local gym. The parking lot was full and people were in their exercise clothes heading into the gym to get a workout. This made me reflect on times that I’ve joined a new gym.

Joining a gym brings this wonderful feeling of hope…

  • I’m going to lose that extra 15-20 pounds.
  • My arms won’t be flabby anymore.
  • I’ll look awesome in that dress.
  • I’m finally getting my blood sugar balanced.
  • I’ll  look good, people will notice and say “Did you lose some weight?”

And at the same time, we can also tell ourselves a lot of stories…

  • I’m going to the gym 5 days a week, immediately following work.
  • 1 hour on the treadmill every day will do it!
  • And salads everyday for lunch and dinner to support my exercise.

The thing I find most interesting is the difference between the hopeful feeling we have before we join the gym and then what happens after we join the gym. We can be so inspired when we first sign up that we lose sight of how we’re going to make any of these things happen. Before we know it, it has been 6 months and we notice the monthly charge on our credit card statement, reminding us how often we DON’T go to the gym.

I’ve had this happen to me many a time. Sometimes I get real energized and decide that I’m going to try it again. Make some new pledges to myself and this time, make it happen. There have also been the times I simply got sick of wasting my money and decided to find another solution.

Those I know who are successful, have a plan that is customized for them.

Here are some examples:

Cheryl loves salsa dancing. She found a dance class with an energizing instructor.  Now she moves around everything on her schedule to make sure she can attend.

Daria significantly increased her amount of walking by walking to her errands. She walks to the grocery store and to get her morning coffee. She regularly gets 8,000 to 10,000 steps every day.

Teresa hired a nutritional consultant to help her enjoy her food choices while losing 15 pounds. She also has gotten her family to eat more vegetables which makes her feel good about how her children are eating.

The common thread is
Do things you like
Do things that you know will get the result you want
Do things that are sustainable

Does our programs give our users the flexibility they need to be successful?
Spring Refresher

Spring Refresher

I was in the 20th year of my career.  My current job required a 2 hour commute each day. I left my home at 6 a.m. and didn’t return until at least 6 p.m. that evening.  That left me only 12 hours each day to have dinner, attend to my family, exercise and sleep.  I was absolutely exhausted at the end of my work day, my eating choices became poor, exercise rarely happened, relaxation was non-existent, and issues with my 50 year old body made sleep almost impossible.  I pushed on.

Maybe I should eat better and exercise during my work day?  So now my lunch hour which previously included working and eating lunch at my desk became running to the gym, rushing through a workout, then eating the same boring salad every day.  I ridiculously was trying to cram 30 hours into a 24 hour day.  Sound familiar?

Well one day my body just said “NO!”  It told me I needed to seriously pay attention to my lifestyle and the unrealistic demands I was requiring of myself. .  Our bodies say “NO!” in a variety of ways including:

  • Illness,
  • Injury
  • Pure Exhaustion

Related to Poor Meal Choices, Too Much Stress, and The Wrong Exercise. When it happened to me, I IMMEDIATELY FELT DEFEATED, OLD, OUT OF SHAPE, and FAT. Yes, many of us take ourselves through this process on a regular basis, but here’s a solution.  I’m sharing some simple anchors for longer term change.

1- Make Coffee a PART of Breakfast, NOT all of Your Breakfast

Shannon’s story:  Having coffee by itself, first thing in the morning contributed to my hormones being out of whack. Incorporating a healthy breakfast, along with my coffee, increased my energy. Focusing on eating first thing in the morning made me care more about what I ate for the rest of the day.

2- Do Absolutely Nothing for 15 Minutes Each Day

Baxter’s story:  I told my family that when I get home, they need to give me time to just relax.  And they actually did it! I wouldn’t plan, I wouldn’t read, no email…I just sat and looked out the window and took a breath. It became my 15 minute vacation.  I felt relaxed and I’m sure I was more fun to be around. Amazing!

3- Only Do Exercise That Makes You Feel Good

April’s story:  I hated going to the gym so I found a dance class.  I now go to my dance class 5 days a week – no matter what. No more hardcore workouts.  I walk.  I enjoy it and my body feels wonderful. The last Saturday of each month, me and a friend check out a workout we never did before.  Last month was anti-gravity yoga.  This month it’s hula hooping.

I invite you to choose an anchor or create one of your own that makes your body feel GREAT!

Two Minutes to Eliminate Stress

Two Minutes to Eliminate Stress

We’ve all had those days when we’re so busy that we don’t see how we’ll get everything done in a day. I had one of those moments last week. I had a couple of training presentations to complete and a presentation to prepare. I had it all handled until my wi-fi went down.

We’ve all had our stress situations and the more we start rushing, usually the worse the situation becomes.

Remember the phrase “Just Breathe?” It has a lot of substance. Breathing gives us the best avenue to insert some calm into the situation. With calm comes an increased ability to think more clear, maintain our pleasant personalities (no one likes us when we’re stressed and irritable), and keep our blood pressure at healthy levels.

Try alternate nostril breathing.  Here’s how it works:

  1. Close the right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through the left nostril. Do this to the count of four seconds.
  2. Immediately close the left nostril with your right ring finger and little finger, and at the same time remove your thumb from the right nostril, and exhale through this nostril. Do this to the count of eight seconds. This completes a half round.
  3. Inhale through the right nostril to the count of four seconds. Close the right nostril with your right them and exhale through the left nostril to the count of eight seconds. This completes one full round.

Start by doing three rounds, adding one round per week until you are doing seven rounds.

Alternate nostril breathing helps with focus and inserts some calm. Many times that’s all we need to get through some wackiness.

Directions courtesy of

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