The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our daily lives in many ways, including our working lives. The challenges people have faced in the context of work are varied and unique. Some people who couldn’t carry out their work from home were put on the furlough scheme, some were unfortunately made redundant, and others might have struggled with working from home.
At Leukaemia Care we heard from patients about specific employment and work issues they were facing during the pandemic. In July we launched our #LifeVsLivelihood campaign through which we called for clearer government guidance for leukaemia patients and their employers around reasonable adjustments, and for the extension of the furlough scheme for those clinically extremely vulnerable people who cannot perform their jobs from home, but who would feel it was an increased risk to their lives to go back to work as usual.
And while sometimes difficult, there have also been many benefits for those employed leukaemia patients who were able to work from home. In many cases, it has enabled them to mitigate their risk and exposure to the virus. In this article, we will hear from Nick, CLL patient and Patient Advocacy Healthcare Liaison Officer at Leukaemia Care, about his experience of this.
A Patient’s Perspective on Working from Home – Nick York, CLL Patient and Patient Advocacy Healthcare Liaison Officer
As someone who is immune-compromised, I am used to working remotely and I already had a flexible working from home arrangement with my employer pre-pandemic. I feel that since the pandemic, more workers now have a better understanding of how to work remotely and are now more equipped to understand the challenges; I do not feel so isolated and alone.
Organisations have explored how to employ strategies to ensure digital inclusion in work activities and group work and colleagues are better equipped and have a mutual understanding. It is important that employers recognise the challenges of their immune-compromised employees; the pandemic is not going away for this group. In my humble opinion, it would not be practical or commercially beneficial for organisations to just revert to pre-pandemic working practices, now that companies are geared up for remote working and digital delivery. The efficiency savings alone should benefit organisations if they continue these practices into the future and ensure flexible working arrangements are in place. There are benefits of increased productivity, increased collaboration internally and externally, ease of implementation of initiatives and working process convenience. For myself, as an immune-compromised employee, there is less time spent in transit when having energy limits due to leukaemia related fatigue and there is the overall impact on quality of life where there are fewer periods of illness caused by office transmitted infections.
On the other hand, there are feelings of isolation, it’s harder to prevent back to back meetings, compromised work-life balance, and a lack of in-person banter – camaraderie and engagement. It is a mixed bag for me. Overall, the health, quality of life and safety of working from home compared to the risks of in-person office-based work are enough to outweigh any other issues WFH may create. This will be especially important in the winter and while COVID is at large in the community. All of those at risk should have access to working from home options within flexible working arrangements. Commerce will benefit if the lessons learned during the pandemic remain for all.
Post-Pandemic Working Climate
One thing’s for sure, we know that work-life will never be the same. The pandemic has altered the way employers and employees view remote work; the importance we place on digital tools and physical space has changed significantly. We now have the rare opportunity to capture the best of remote and in-person work, leaving behind the 9-5 office-centric work and any inefficient processes that came with it. We can reimagine everything.
The working from home ‘pilot’ that was born from the pandemic taught us that we can accomplish most tasks remotely without a significant drop in productivity or quality. Additionally, the flexibility that comes with working from home suits most employees, and especially those with long commute times or with children at school. And as Nick touched on, we are now becoming more inclusive of those who worked from home prior to the pandemic – making more of an effort to include them in meetings or celebrations at work, because we’re now all in the same boat. Working remotely has arguably made workplaces more inclusive of a wider range of employees; there are of course the immune-compromised, but also people with mental health conditions like anxiety, and those who are neurodivergent e.g. people with ASD, ADHD, or Dyslexia who may have found office culture stressful or overwhelming. These employees may have seen their productivity or quality of work improve during the pandemic, having the opportunity to work from the comfort of their own homes.
Over time, however, is face-to-face interaction required for collaboration, working relationships and solving complex challenges? Continuous remote work could extend the workday, and create unclear work-life boundaries, in doing so, potentially impacting the mental wellbeing of staff.
There are pros and cons to both sides and organisations will have to rethink their working arrangements carefully to ensure they can capture the best of both worlds. Employees will also have to assess what works best for them, especially when seeking out new roles or discussing their current setup with their employers – one way will not suit everyone. It is possible to create clear boundaries by working from home, but this will take effort, thought, and practice. We will eventually find a new sustainable normal from this recalibration, and most companies will adopt a hybrid of remote, flexible and in-person working.
Will this new working climate hinder or help leukaemia patients working from home? Our Advocacy Officer explores the new working climate for immune-compromised leukaemia patients, diving deeper into the benefits Nick touched upon in his patient perspective.
Will This New Working Climate Help Leukaemia Patients?
As lots of you will be aware, many leukaemia patients like Nick are considered immune-compromised, and studies have shown that unfortunately, the COVID-19 vaccines are not as effective for some of these patients as a result. Put simply, vaccines work by relying on your immune system to respond and build antibodies to the virus. Most blood cancers are illnesses of the immune system; this is why being at increased risk from infection is a common side effect of leukaemia and experiencing more frequent infections is a common symptom prior to diagnosis. In addition many leukaemia patients, due to their clinical vulnerability, are at a higher risk of severe illness should they catch COVID-19.
For those leukaemia patients whose jobs allow for working from home, it is therefore vital to have the option to continue to do so while cases remain high. Not having to travel to the workplace and mixing with colleagues in person reduces the risk of exposure to the virus. Working from home and the collective shift in mentality that has accompanied this will also hopefully enable leukaemia patients to have more flexibility, for example with health appointments and managing their symptoms such as fatigue.
And as Nick explained, while it can sometimes be understandably isolating and challenging, the reduced risk to patients’ health and to their lives often remains a priority. Striking the balance between mitigating your risk of the virus and taking steps to protect your mental wellbeing needs to be done individually, based on what feels right for you. It is therefore important that every working leukaemia patient is able to speak with their employer about the adjustments that can be made to keep them safe if they feel they need them.
How can Leukaemia Care help you navigate employment as a clinically extremely vulnerable leukaemia (CEV) employee?
If you’re a CEV leukaemia employee, we have a range of resources to help you navigate employment: