Support on the job

Support on the job

If you have an employee diagnosed with dementia or acting as a care partner that is seeking support to stay in the workplace, the three most important things you can do as a employer or supervisor are:

Fear is one of the most common reasons that employees hide the impacts of dementia in the workplace. Employees may be afraid of losing their job, poor treatment from their employer or colleagues, or restrictions to the type of work they enjoy. If an employee chooses to speak with you about their experience or provides medical documentation outlining the accommodations that they require, this is an investment in your relationship. They are giving you the opportunity to respond with compassion, empathy, and support. This is your opportunity to work with your employee on open communication to help them feel valued and be productive in your workplace. Open, trust-based does not mean that you refrain from talking to your employee safety issues, performance challenges, and other concerns. On the contrary, it means that you both commit to talking about how your employee is feeling at work, how you are feeling about their performance, and how you can work together to address any challenges. Some of the questions that support open, trust-based, ongoing communication are:

  • How are you feeling about your work and relationships in the workplace?
  • How often should we be meeting, and what day of the week and time works for both of us? • What should we be looking for that would indicate you are struggling?
  • How do you want us to respond if there are performance challenges so we can address them and you continue to feel supported?
  • What are you most concerned about at work, and how can we work together to address your concerns?

Keeping accurate and detailed employment records can also be important to achieving open, trust-based communication. Recording the frequency of meetings, questions or issues to discuss, action items, and commitments made can help with:

  • Follow up and accountability.
  • Transparency and accuracy.
  • Identifying patterns of change in your employee’s behaviour or performance.
  • Providing fair and objective evaluations of performance over time.

Whether your employee is living with dementia or a care partner to someone with dementia, stigma in the workplace is a real and, often, significant concern. People hold assumptions about both dementia and care partners, and they both knowingly and unknowingly say things or behave in ways that are judgmental and/or discriminatory. These can include:

  • Quips, comments, or jokes about memory, dementia, and aging.
  • Uninvited comments about changes in work attendance, mood, or behaviour.
  • Labels or stereotypes based on the things that make an employee different.
  • Avoiding or excluding colleagues because they don’t know what to say to them.
  • Excluding colleagues from opportunities, including social activities, because they assume that they can’t or won’t want to participate.
  • Doing things for colleagues without permission or assigning them menial or trivial tasks to “help them out”.

Actively working to be a dementia-inclusive employer can make a significant difference to your employee and overall team dynamic. It can create an environment where an employee diagnosed with dementia or acting as a care partner feels comfortable sharing their experience with their colleagues because they feel confident that they will be supported in the workplace. It can create an environment of respect, open communication, support, and camaraderie that benefits everyone.

If you have an employee who has spoken to you about being impacted by dementia, make sure you talk to them about what they are comfortable sharing with their colleagues - if anything - and the role that they want to play in any sharing. Employees’ personal information, including medical information, should be held confidential unless there is explicit permission from an employee to share it or they share it themselves.

In addition to ongoing communication, it will be helpful to both you and your employee to develop a written plan that outlines how you will work together for the employee’s success in the workplace. This plan can include workplace accommodations, such as:

  • Changes to work hours, including start and end times, break times, and/or time to attend appointments.
  • Changes or modifications to job functions and tasks.
  • Reasonable physical accommodations, such as sound barriers, quiet areas to take a break, aids, modifications to equipment, and signs and symbols to act as visual reminders.
  • Changes or modifications to communication, including relaying or documenting instructions, directions, and feedback.
  • Commitments from the employee as to how they will communicate their experiences and manage their challenges.

The plan should be agreed to by both you and your employee, and it should be reviewed on a set schedule or as either you or your employee identifies a need for new strategies.

Providing workplace accommodations

Accommodation means making changes to certain rules, standards, policies, workplace cultures, and physical environments to ensure that they don’t have a negative effect on a person because of the person’s mental or physical disability, religion, gender or any other protection under the Alberta Human Rights Act. The goal with accommodation is for you and your employee(s) to work together to adopt solutions that protect employees from workplace discrimination based on the protections in the Act without creating insurmountable barriers for you. As an employer, you must provide accommodations related to Alberta’s protected areas unless they cause undue hardship for you, such as high financial costs or a serious disruption to business. For accommodations related to a mental or physical disability, such as for dementia, it is reasonable to ask your employee to share medical information, via a doctor, to describe any limitations and/or restrictions related to their job responsibilities and required accommodations.

Different types of workplace accommodations

Job Role

  • Allocate some job duties to another person.
  • Transfer the person to a role that continues to offer meaningful work and they can carry out more easily - and note that it can be more harmful than helpful to offer skilled workers menial tasks.
  • Reduce or change the work hours (e.g., symptoms might be worse in the morning or evening, before or after medication).
  • Adopt flexible work hours or provide additional time off from work (e.g., to provide the person time to go to doctor appointments, rehabilitation, or other treatments).

Supervisory and Collegial Support

  • Ensure there is a supervisor and/or company lead for employment questions who checks in with the affected employee on a regular schedule.
  • Allocate a mentor or colleague to assist in times of uncertainty or lack of confidence.
  • Review the job role, employee’s experience and performance, and accommodations on a set and regular schedule.
  • Make a standing offer to repeat or write down instructions, as required.
  • Help direct supervisor(s) and colleagues learn about dementia, with the explicit consent of the affected employee.
  • Share information about any employee-led or community-based supports available, including union, health services, financial and retirement planning, legal advice, and dementia services.

Working Environment

  • Add soundproofing or visual barriers to reduce distractions.
  • Identify quiet areas to work or take a break.
  • Develop and put up signs and symbols to act as visual reminders.
  • Acquire or modify equipment.
  • Modify how instructions are provided.
  • Modify reference manuals and other materials (i.e., visuals, symbols, colour contrast, white space can be helpful).

Learn more from the Alberta Human Rights Commission’s Interpretative Bulletin on Alberta employers’ Duty to Accommodate or call the Commission’s confidential information line toll-free by dialing 310-0000 and entering 780-427-7661 when prompted.