The four-year global World MS Day Connections theme (2020 – 2023) aims to build community connection, self-connection and connections to quality care.
With Monday, May 30 the start of the working week, our focus this World MS Day, is Employment and MS, including its important link to community connection.
Today we launched the results of a major survey on employment: the MS Australia ‘Employment and Workplace Survey’. These findings renew our advocacy efforts in this area in line with our goal to “Challenge stigma in the workplace” as stated in MS Australia’s 2022-2026 Strategic Plan.
Too many workplaces failing people with MS
- A disconnect exists between expectations and workplace realities for those with health conditions
- Half (52%) of people living with MS report missed work opportunities
- More than a quarter (28%) of those with MS were uncomfortable in the workplace because they felt people labelled them
- MS Australia calls for practical measures and education to make good intentions a reality
This survey commissioned by MS Australia has uncovered a significant disconnect between supportive community attitudes towards co-workers with health conditions, like MS, and the reality of poor experiences within workplaces.1
The findings show that while the general community overwhelmingly agree (83%) that people with health conditions in the workplace are ‘just as capable’ as anyone when it comes to working, over half (52%) of those with MS reported missing out on work opportunities due to their condition. More than a quarter (28%) of those with MS were uncomfortable in the workplace because they felt people labelled them.
The results also show that while eight out of ten (85%) in the community believe workplaces are now more receptive to adapting roles to better fit employees, supportive action following disclosure is low. One in five (17%) of those living with MS had their job description adjusted after telling their employer about their condition and one-third (32%) saw physical changes made to their work environment to support them in fulfilling their duties.
The MS Australia ‘Employment and Workplace Survey’ gathered insights from 1,748 Australians aged 18 and over, including 525 people living with MS. It provides the first-ever comparison of community attitudes, with actual workplace reality for those with health conditions including MS, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, asthma, anxiety and depression.
Importantly, the findings reiterated a wide-held belief that meaningful work is a critical part of enjoying a good quality of life – with seven out of ten (70%) Australians feeling more connected to people and community because of their employment. This increased to over three quarters (77%) among those living with MS.
“Overall, this survey shows many workplaces are not keeping pace with community expectations by failing to support employees living with physical or mental health conditions,” said Associate Professor Desmond Graham, President of MS Australia.
Disclosure of a health condition in Australian workplaces is challenging, with the research uncovering more than two out of five (41%) living with MS who chose not to disclose their condition at work saying it would ‘change people’s opinion’ of them and one in four (25%) that it would ‘jeopardise career prospects.’
“I once had an identity that was trusted in the workplace. After my diagnosis, I spent two years unemployed, underemployed and working for free because no one wanted to employ such a sick-leave risk. MS is not well understood. The stigma is profound. Reveal you have cancer and someone will give you a hug, buy you flowers and maybe even wear a pin in support or throw you a morning tea. Reveal you have MS and people avoid eye contact. Once, the person I told backed away slowly, as though it was contagious.”
Quote from contributor (and MS Australia National Advocate) Astrid Edwards from Growing up Disabled in Australia edited by Carly Findlay OAM, published 2021 by Black Inc.
Experts in MS and employment, Associate Professors Peter Van Dijk and Andrea Kirk-Brown from the Monash Business School, Monash University say although early and effective symptom management (for MS) is helping people to stay at work longer, there are a growing number of employees who feel vulnerable and insecure in their employment.
“Fear over stigma and loss of employment remain significant concerns for employees with MS, leading to higher stress levels and perceptions of vulnerability,” Associate Professor Van Dijk said.
A need for better and more education and information was also apparent, with four out of five (82%) of the general community in agreement that knowing more about a person’s health condition would make it easier to work alongside them.
“This survey shows we really need to be doing a much better job empowering those living with health conditions and providing more equitable work conditions and career advancement. Putting it bluntly, employers need to go further, faster,” said Rohan Greenland, CEO, MS Australia.
“Naturally we’re concerned those with MS and other health conditions are being disadvantaged, but also that employers are missing out on valuable talent, at a time when skilled staff are in short supply,” added Mr Greenland.
Today we have also published newly updated resources for employees living with MS and their colleagues, and also for current and prospective employers. Revised by experts in MS employment services, this information is designed to help employees and employers create a fulfilling workplace.
With our new ‘Employment and Workplace Survey’, MS Australia wants to start an important conversation and raise awareness about employment and MS including barriers, myths, opportunities and experiences. We also want to spotlight employers doing good things such as workplace adjustments, considerations and other measures taken to support employees with MS.
Our state and territory MS Member Organisations offer specialist MS employment services, advice and support to people with MS and their employers. This primarily includes a tailored approach to individuals living and working with MS to find the right solutions within the workplace and address barriers, to help people with MS retain employment. Specialist employment staff can assist with the adjustment of workplaces to suit the physical abilities of individuals with MS or discuss flexible work practices that will meet the needs of the person with MS and the business needs of the employer.
To find the service nearest you, please visit www.msaustralia.org.au/supports-and-services/
Visit these links to read:
- MS Australia’s Employment & Workplace Survey Media Release
- MS Australia’s Employment & Workplace Survey Findings
- MS Australia’s Employment Guides
1 ‘Workplace and Employment Survey’ February 2022. Commissioned by MS Australia and conducted by Lonergan Research in accordance with the ISO 20252 standard. 1,081 Australians aged 18+ and 667 MS Australia database members including 525 people with MS, living in both capital city and non-capital city areas, answered the survey which was conducted online in February 2022. After interviewing, panel data was weighted to the latest population estimates sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, MS Australia respondent data was unweighted. Most common self-selected health conditions were anxiety (33%), depression (25%), arthritis (21%), dermatological condition (psoriasis, eczema etc. – 17%) and asthma (17%).