stressed businesswoman

Everyone deals with stress at work — whether experienced at an onsite setting or while working remotely. Whether it is starting a new job, undertaking a new project, or just being impacted by the daily grind — we all deal with workplace stress to some degree. Individuals with disabilities, some of whom may be coping with complex and wide-ranging difficulties, may need reasonable accommodation for managing stress in the workplace. Employees with cancer, fibromyalgia, mental health impairments, or sudden-onset disabilities (to name a few) may experience additional and unique stress related to their conditions, especially when circumstances on the job change suddenly or substantially.

As an example of a JAN inquiry related to stress, I spoke with “Jemma,” a representative in human resources at a customer service call center. The call center recently got a new contract that increased the workload of all customer service representatives and required changes related to internal processes for managing clients’ needs. Specifically, customer service representatives now had to take incoming emails from a collective pool instead of being assigned to them directly. An employee with an autism spectrum condition was having trouble with this new method and requested an accommodation to not perform the email function. Jemma explained that the employer determined being able to effectively manage the email pool was essential to every customer service representative’s job and they were unable to remove that component of this position. Jemma was interested in JAN’s opinion on how to proceed with this situation.

JAN's approach to stress management starts with trying to identify what is causing the stress. Jemma indicated that the employee found the new email system confusing and difficult to navigate. In addition, the employee noted that for her, sudden change is difficult, learning new tasks is challenging, and she can “shut down” when put in these types of situations. This additional information was quite useful in determining potential solutions. Jemma made it clear the employer will not remove the email task because they consider it essential. Accommodation ideas included creating a flow chart on how to navigate the new system (or to-do list — better yet make it color-coded), additional or alternative training that is more conducive to the employee’s learning needs, and potentially having a mentor to assist if the employee becomes overwhelmed. The mentor could also be a source of support during periods of transition. Jemma was pleased with these ideas and felt an accommodation could be provided in this situation that would allow the employee to be successful in her customer service position.

There are a lot of strategies and accommodations that could help with stress in the workplace. As many employees transition back to on-site workplaces in the recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, issues of work stress may be even more pronounced. Some individuals may need to modify their work schedules to manage stress. Modifying their schedule could allow them to work at their peak performance times, make the commute on public transportation easier, or allow them to work when there are fewer people and less noise. Some people find communicating face-to-face difficult and ask to communicate in writing when possible to eliminate that stressor. Others ask to modify their environment to improve mood and reduce stress — perhaps listening to soft music or having full-spectrum lighting. The goal is to determine what is causing the stress then work to reduce or eliminate the cause if possible. No solution is a one-size-fits-all, so being creative and having effective communication between employer and employee is key to a productive interactive process.

To discuss a particular accommodation situation, you can contact JAN to speak with a consultant or employment specialist for one-on-one assistance.

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