AI Career Coaches, the “Unbossing” Trend, and Supporting Employees with Chronic Conditions

News Spotlight

Workers turn to AI career coaches. New AI chatbots have emerged to provide career advice — experts say they can be helpful as an idea generator. Still, human support is best when navigating tough issues like discrimination (Washington Post).

Invisible disabilities at work. With more than 33 million U.S. adults contending with non-apparent disabilities like chronic pain, diabetes, and autism, more inclusive hiring practices and greater flexibility are needed (Fast Company).

Millennial jobs are at risk. As the workplace evolves, middle managers are becoming redundant, leading to a trend of “unbossing” that’s disproportionately impacting Millennials (Business Insider).

Stat of the Week

In a new study on the workplace challenges faced by caregivers of adults, 1 in 3 caregivers say that balancing their job and care responsibilities is their biggest driver of stress. A large majority cited care commitments as a reason they would leave their job (75%) and say their companies are more understanding about childcare responsibilities than adult caregiving needs (80%).

With the population of adults over 65 expected to surpass children by 2030, it’s increasingly important that employers address the unique challenges faced by their workers caring of other adults. Workplace flexibility — including PTO for caregiving, hybrid work options, and flexible schedules — will be key.

Deep Dive Article

How to Support Employees of All Ages with Chronic Conditions

Today, 133 million Americans live with chronic conditions, more than ever before. This is nearly half the U.S. population, and the number is only expected to climb. By 2030, a projected 171 million Americans will suffer from chronic illnesses like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease, impacting their quality of life, capacity to thrive, and ability to be successful at work.

A new study from my company, Workplace Intelligence, and One Medical, a membership-based primary care practice, explores the impacts of chronic conditions in the workplace. We found that more than half of employees have at least one chronic condition, and 3 out of 4 said that their health either worsened or stayed the same over the past year.

These conditions are not exclusive to older generations like Baby Boomers. In fact, more than 4 out of 10 Millennial and Gen Z workers say they are living with a chronic condition, underscoring the importance of this issue for the entire workforce, regardless of age.

For those who suffer from chronic conditions, there are untold physical, emotional, and financial costs. These conditions can also have far-reaching implications for business as employees contend with the complications of their illness in the workplace. Employees suffering from chronic conditions say they have experienced negative impacts in the workplace as a result, affecting their productivity (53%), ability to focus (52%), the quality of their work (42%), and their career ambition (40%). These factors can diminish an employee’s performance over time, contributing to negative business outcomes.

Gen Z and Millennial workers are even more significantly impacted, with 76% saying that their chronic conditions make them less productive. These workers are also 2X more likely to report other negative work outcomes than their older counterparts, signaling that younger employees are especially impacted in their professional lives.

Employers are aware of these challenges, with 94% of HR leaders agreeing that employees with chronic conditions are less productive and 60% reporting that these workers are losing at least 6 hours a week of productivity — nearly a full day of work. Leaders also estimated that around one-third of their employees have had to cut back hours (33%) or left their company (31%) due to their chronic conditions.

In response to these setbacks, and as healthcare costs continue to rise, many companies are making changes. This year, 86% of HR leaders reported that they are increasing their healthcare budget, focusing on new solutions for telemedicine (56%), primary care (55%), and chronic disease management (54%). Providing better access to healthcare is essential to helping employees with chronic conditions, and younger employees respond especially well to innovative solutions like telehealth.

The report uncovered that in 2023, 90% of employees with chronic conditions used their healthcare benefits to manage or treat these conditions, with most reporting that they went to a primary care provider (74%) or a specialist (30%). Primary care providers can screen, diagnose, and treat some chronic conditions, and they can guide their patients to the right kind of specialty care as needed.

However, when considering the holistic well-being of employees with chronic conditions, health benefits are just one piece of the puzzle. In this week’s article, I dig into 5 key steps that employers can take to support their workers — across all generations — to manage their overall health and chronic conditions better.

  1. Offer flexible work arrangements.
    Chronic conditions can cause fluctuating symptoms, from pain to fatigue to cognitive impairments, which can impact an employee’s ability to work. By providing flexible work arrangements — like adjustable schedules or the ability to sometimes work from home — companies make it possible for their employees to better manage symptoms, achieve work-life balance, reduce stress, and even bolster their productivity.
  2. Provide accommodating leave policies.
    For employees with chronic conditions, flexibility is essential when balancing work responsibilities with their medical needs. When they have access to transparent, flexible leave options — including sick leave, disability leave, and flexible time off — employees can take time away for medical appointments, treatments, or periods of illness without fear of repercussions or loss of income. This in turn helps reduce stress for these employees and prevent burnout, ensuring that they are set up for success at work.
  3. Implement wellness initiatives.
    By promoting overall wellness in the workplace, employers help their entire workforce better prioritize their health. Wellness initiatives can provide a wide range of physical, mental, and emotional support, including gym memberships and subsidies, health screenings, stress management programs, mental health resources, nutrition counseling, and more. For employees with chronic conditions, these initiatives can help them manage their conditions more effectively, improve their quality of life overall, and reduce the impact of their illness on their work performance.
  4. Prioritize workplace accommodations.
    For many with chronic conditions, the physical demands of the workplace can present challenges — even for knowledge workers who spend most of their day at their desks. Modified workstations, including ergonomic furniture and adjustable desks, can help meet employees’ physical needs, while quiet or private workspaces can support employees who struggle with sensory processing. Employers should begin by asking their employees what kind of modifications would best support them in being more comfortable and successful in their roles.
  5. Foster an inclusive, supportive culture.
    All of the above steps help contribute to a culture that is supportive and inclusive of employees with chronic illnesses. Additionally, training, education, and resources — especially for managers — can help raise awareness about chronic conditions and how best to support colleagues who have them. Open communication is essential for employees to discuss their needs, concerns, and challenges related to their chronic conditions. A supportive culture is the first step to this communication, however, to make sure that employees feel truly comfortable when expressing their needs.

Above all, access to healthcare is key.

Each of the above steps is essential to supporting employees with chronic conditions, but without health benefits, many of these workers will not have access to the basic care they need. These benefits should be accessible and comprehensive, allowing employees to easily understand their care options and ensuring that they are covered regardless of their condition.

As the number of individuals with chronic conditions continues to rise, it will only become more important that employers address the unique needs of their teams. Whether Gen Z or Boomer, employees across the board struggle with conditions that challenge all aspects of their lives, including their careers. Leaders who prioritize the diverse health needs of their employees will likely see productivity gains, more engaged employees, and increased retention. By ensuring that those with chronic conditions can thrive at work, employers will contribute to a more inclusive, equitable, and healthy workplace for all.

Thanks for reading — be sure to join the conversation on LinkedIn, and download the report to see the complete findings from my company’s latest research with One Medical.

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