Ready for work also means being ‘fit for work’

On Friday, 21st November, the ‘Fit for Work’ coalition outlined at a press conference how a coordinated plan by the Government and health and business groups could save the exchequer millions and help many workers dealing with difficult illnesses, which affect all age groups, including graduates, writes Fergal Browne.

The ‘Fit for Work’ coalition has called on the HSE and the Department of Social Protection to work with them to create a national programme for early intervention in combating workplace absence caused by musculoskeletal disease (MSD), warning that such conditions affect people at all stages of their working life.

L-R: Kara McGann (Ibec), Aoife Weller (graduate and rheumatoid arthritis patient), Dr Don Thornhill (Fit for Work Ireland) & Dr John McDermott (GP & Occupational Health Specialist)

L-R: Kara McGann (Ibec), Aoife Weller (graduate and rheumatoid arthritis patient), Dr Don Thornhill (Fit for Work Ireland) & Dr John McDermott (GP & Occupational Health Specialist)

The request came as the working group, which is a coalition of 16 groups including Arthritis Ireland, Ibec and HSE Primary Care, highlighted how the exchequer could save €55 million in reduced absenteeism and decreased illness benefit payments.

Seven million working days are lost a year in Ireland due to absence and ill health because of musculoskeletal diseases (MSDs) alone, an umbrella term covering over 200 conditions including arthritis, back pain and tendonitis.

MSDs remain the most commonly reported cause of absence from work in Ireland, costing the state €275 million per year in illness benefit payments alone. MSD problems are common. 50% of all workers experience back pain each year and 80% of all adults will suffer from it at some stage in their lifetime.

Chair of the Fit for Work Ireland Coalition and Chairperson of the National Competitiveness Council, Dr. Don Thornhill, said: “Tackling absenteeism is a no-brainer opportunity for the Government to claw back around €55m in Exchequer savings. The solution is simple – a national early intervention plan needs to be drawn up and implemented to make a 20% saving of the total MSD illness benefit bill.”

It is estimated that as approximately 5% of graduates entering the workforce may be suffering from a musculoskeletal injury, with environments such as those in the IT and finance sectors not as benign as many believe, according to John McDermott, GP and Occupational Health Specialist. “Quite often, the onset of these conditions can be slow and insidious, so it’s important that people are aware of the risks, whether they are a graduate entering the workplace or someone at a later stage of their career.”

Personal experience

Aoife Weller (26) has rheumatoid arthritis, which is when all of your joints from your jaw to your toes become swollen. “Basically, your body just starts attacking yourself”, she says.

The disease developed rapidly when she was just 18, just as she was starting an Arts degree in Maynooth University.

Despite her illness she finished her degree and began an administrative role in a start-up company in Mullingar.

She originally tried to hide the illness from her employer. “It was very difficult to hide it. I found it hard to walk. Even the normal things in the office were difficult, let alone the 40+ hours in the week. It’s hard to keep going at the same level as everyone else.’

She was constantly sick with colds, flu and infections due to her compromised immune system, a result of the medication she was taking for her illness. She lasted nine months before a particularly bad onset of her condition, which meant she was unable to move and in constant pain and she was hospitalised for several weeks. It continues to happen several times a year. “It’s a very, very painful time”, she says.

After she returned to work she admitted her problem to her employer. He was supportive of her situation, moving her shifts to later hours as arthritis is generally worse in the mornings, locating her desk closer to the bathroom, her work station was ergonomically corrected and she was provided with a plug-in radiator beside her desk.

Unfortunately though, as business picked up in the company, so did Aoife’s stress levels. “As anybody with an illness will tell you, stress is very detrimental.”

She made the decision to leave the job after attempts to allow her work from home or part-time proved unviable. “Perhaps with early intervention or seeing an occupational health therapist, there could of being a chance I could have stayed in that job,” says Aoife. 77% of unemployed participants in a recent Arthritis Ireland survey said they lost or had to give up their job due to MSD.

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2011 employers cannot discriminate on the grounds of disability, but they are under no legal obligation to recruit or retain a person who is not fully competent or capable of undertaking the duties attached to a job.  However, they must take appropriate steps to accommodate the needs of employees and prospective employees with disabilities.

At the moment Aoife both volunteers and works with Arthritis Ireland to help other people in a similar situation to her own. She’s looking for other work as well but remains realistic. “It has to be part-time work, because I’d need the time to rest. I know my limitations”, she says.


Arthiritis Ireland have published a free guide to download for employers and for employees on this issue.

From undergrad to postgrad; a challenging but rewarding step

Recent journalism graduate Dáirne Black writes on her experience of pursuing postgraduate study in a new academic environment.

Despite studying Early & Modern Irish at Trinity College Dublin, it was a wonderful relationship with the college radio station which paved the way for me to continue my studies at postgraduate level in Journalism in DIT. The vastness of university can be daunting, and it took me a while to adjust, whether it be the lecture rooms, the library or even trying not to slip on the cobblestones! University gave me this wonderful freedom, yet I still felt compelled to work hard and achieve. It was a balance I cherished. But in my final year, I contemplated what the future held beyond the walls of Trinity.

The postgraduate route was one I definitely wanted to pursue. It’s necessary to have a strong degree to back up the experience I had gained in media at the radio station in Trinity. Dublin Institute of Technology seemed like the obvious choice and the interview process only confirmed my decision. I began a Masters in Journalism, based on a love of writing and radio broadcasting, which was unearthed by Trinity and which I wanted to be nurtured by DIT.

DIT is a renowned, well-established and respected Institute of Technology. It has been progressing with the times and I hoped to further myself along with it. The city centre location was ideal, and yet it gave me distance from Trinity, allowing for a new chapter of my life to begin.

With small class sizes, it was easy to gel and to work together on various projects with other students. Many of us worked on the college paper, which cemented us as a unit and honed us as journalists. The lecturers had time to spare, and were accessible, which helps when you are working on various assignments or pieces.

In terms of study space, the library provides a separate section for postgraduate studies which I found helpful. It was on the floor above and the postgraduate theses were also available, which was a help when the last minute finishing touches were being put to our dissertations.

With a smaller student population and one-to-one attention and tuition, I felt like DIT has set me up for the career I want. The college itself, while quite big, actually was a place I was able to settle into quickly. I enjoyed the routine of things and how everything was condensed into a relatively small campus, with other amenities within walking distance.

Settling into an IT, or indeed any postgraduate course/college, is difficult for everyone. You need to allow yourself time to adjust, not only to the new college but to the new course, lecturers, even the people. It took a while to get accustomed to the workload, not to mention juggling that with working at the weekends too, something that many postgraduate students will be familiar with!

My lecturers were an integral part of the success of my postgraduate study. They were working professionals in the business in which I wanted to work and understood everything from the frustration of job-hunting to the celebratory moment of seeing your name in print for the first time.

For those contemplating continuing to postgraduate level, I would strongly recommend researching not just the courses, but also the colleges. Paying a visit to them is well worth it, even try immersing yourself in one for a day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, whether it be before, during or after you’ve made your final decision. It’s your future, so research is crucial to make sure you’re making the best possible choice.

Dáirne Black graduated with a Masters in Journalism from DIT in February 2014.

For more information from gradireland on what further study can do for your career, read here

The trends shaping the future of work

The second article from last week’s Halogen Talent Summit on-The Future of Work: a gradireland masterclass in Managing the New Generation- discusses the trends that are shaping the future of work globally. Emma Birchall, Head of Research at the Future of Work Research Consortium at London-based Hot Spots Movement, discussed the impact which globalisation, a more connected workforce and longer lifespans will have on career models that have existed to date.

Best Internet Concept of global business from concepts series

As Emma’s research showed, the impact of technology on the workforce of today cannot be underestimated. It is crystallised by Moore’s Law, which when simplified states that the power of IT processing will double every two years. When we consider the leap from email to internet to virtual knowledge, the cloud, social media and robotisation has all happened within the last 25 years, the migration to a predominantly connected workforce of billions has meant a massive transition for both employers and employees. Emma explained that working with different colleagues across different time zones and locations, is now viewed as part of everyday business, and virtual collaboration is a day-to-day reality for many. As a result, management view collaborative skills as particularly important, with strong communication and diversity a key asset.

Globalisation has flattened the planet in many respects. A hugely mobile workforce now works in a 24/7 environment, heavily influenced by emerging markets and the increasingly prevalent effect of the Indian and Chinese economies. The sheer weight of the populations of these two countries is having a massive impact on the amount of graduates emerging from third level education, with the amount of students completing university education in India and China currently making up more than 25% of the global graduate population. In terms of educational facilities, Asia is raising its flag as home to centres of excellence, with, according to the presentation, five of the world’s top 50 universities located there, with Peking University in 46th place and Tokyo University in 27th place.

In terms of demographics, Emma explains that the good news is that people are living longer. Her presentation explained that at least 50% of babies born in 2007 are expected to live to more than 100. This continuing trend of longer life expectancy means that people will also be working for longer though, a fact exacerbated by the significant impact of a decline in voluntary pensions. Generation ‘Y’, which we discussed in the previous post, also has a huge part to play in the future of work, with this generation now expected to be the predominant age group in the workplace by 2020, surpassing Generation ‘X’, according to research on Labour Force Distribution within the United States.

The presentation then touched upon some of the themes which will likely become more important in the workplace as Generation ‘Y’ become increasingly dominant. Leadership is key, with resilience to the fore. The workplace of now and the near future demands transparency and activism from its leaders in dealing with a workforce which is empowered and more likely to think of their career in the short term.

Closing out her presentation, Emma said that some of the key questions for the future of the working world include; how will organisations adapt to new career models and the reality of a multi-generational workforce? How will organisations need to change their approach to talent management and what does the future look like for HR and leadership? She said it is important that organisations look at roles and responsibilities for their employees and how they will evolve, since the importance of participation is now a priority for workers. In a globalised world, successful organisations will need to balance the access to the global with the demands of the local and in terms of planning for the new workforce, the importance of coaching the next generation of leaders was reiterated.