Embracing employees with medical conditions and disabilities

by Matt Johns - CEO of Deliberate a Strategy and Employee Experience consultancy
Monday , 3 June 2019 - 1-2 minute read
Four people work around a table on their laptops

It’s a reality of life that we get sick from time to time. Sometimes it can be a common cold or flu, other times it may be something more serious.

As an employee, this can become a real cause of stress – either as the individual suffering from the medical condition or as a work colleague left frustrated at another’s absence.

If you have employees who are suffering from medical conditions or illness, here are three tips to helping employees back into work following a significant period of leave:

  1. Contact. Maintain close contact with the employee. It’s tough enough going through an illness. Being disengaged from work only makes it harder. Encouraging employees to come into work from time to time for functions, events or even just for morning tea could have a big impact on their personal motivation.
  2. Flexible. Being open minded with ideas on how best to return to work is important. This step needs to be a partnership with both the employer and the employee working together to design the best possible approach to getting back to work. As an employer, it’s important to listen to the employee – their needs and ideal outcomes, before agreeing the best way forward.
  3. Change. Be ready to change the plan. Sometimes a return to work strategy doesn’t work out as originally planned. This is okay. Take some time to consider new options with the employee. This collaborative approach will signal your commitment to the employee and is likely to lead to greater motivation.

It’s important that business leaders take the time to consider how they might welcome employees back after time away and even attract potential new employees who may already be impacted by a medical condition. There are strategic, operational, commercial and social benefits that this proactive approach to employing New Zealanders with a disability can create.


Considering 1 in 5 New Zealanders1 of working age have some sort of disability, it makes sense that business leaders consider how to connect to this potential customer base. Welcoming and even encouraging those with disabilities into the work place provides the business with market knowledge, understanding and insight that competitors might not have.


The “war for talent” is an ongoing challenge. While a potential or current employee may have a medical condition, this does not necessarily mean it will impact their ability to do a great job. On the contrary, businesses that embrace the opportunity can benefit from accessing a wider motivated talent pool.


With an ever-increasing focus on equality of work, embracing employees with disabilities or medical conditions just makes sense. The signal this sends to other employees about what the business believes in will be powerful, let alone the message the business sends to the marketplace in general. As the coffee chain Starbucks found, the reputation of the business can be significantly enhanced. In 2015, they were one of only a handful of businesses to receive a perfect score in the Disability Equality Index for their disability inclusion policy and practices. The coffee chain made a deliberate decision to hire more employees with disabilities, opening stores that are staffed with disabled employees.


Disability can directly affect colleagues at work and in their personal lives. Taking a leadership position on disability helps managers to develop technical skills in change management, people management, job design, accessibility and usability.2

The case for hiring and retaining disabled staff and those with serious medical conditions is powerful. And of course, employees with medical conditions are better placed to understand the needs of others in similar situations.

Matt Johns, Deliberat

Matt uses his diverse experience as a trained undercover police officer and as the former Chief Strategy Officer at Deloitte to help businesses design better employee experiences to drive business growth. Having worked in experience design and strategy for over a decade, Matt has worked with organisations across the world connecting business strategy with deliberately designed customer and employee experience strategy.


  1. https://www.employment.govt.nz/workplace-policies/employment-for-disabled-people/the-benefits-of-being-a-disability-confident-organisation/
  2. https://www.msd.govt.nz/about-msd-and-our-work/work-programmes/initiatives/disabilityconfidentnz/lead-toolkit/employing-committed.html

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