Managing Incontinence on the Job
By Teri Brown
Incontinence in the workplace can present a unique set of challenges. Who do you tell? When do you tell them?
Carol Foreman from Wellton, Ariz., remembers. When she worked as a surgical decontamination tech, she had many small bladder control accidents. Her greatest challenge came with the lifting her job required.
"I always had to remember to squeeze my pelvic area when I was lifting things," says Foreman, who retired six years ago. "I carried extra incontinence [absorbent] products in my purse and during some strenuous days had to change them several times."
Foreman told her supervisor about the problem to explain her frequent trips to the bathroom. "I was always glad when I had a ... supervisor who would understand," she says.
Sometimes the stress of managing incontinence and the feelings that go along with it can chip away at a person’s self esteem. Tackling these feelings is the first step in dealing with incontinence in the workplace.
Dr. Kathleen Connell is an assistant professor at the Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery at the Yale University School of Medicine. She believes it’s important to tackle the issue head on.
"Be proactive in dealing with it," says Dr. Connell. "It is important to take the time and see a physician because oftentimes there [are] treatments that can dramatically improve incontinence episodes and trips to the bathroom. Behavioral modification and changing dietary habits can also greatly help. Knowing there is help can be very encouraging, and taking an active role is self empowering."
Work with your doctor to find the management technique that’s best for you. Treatments and management options vary, depending on the type of incontinence you have.
Should You Tell Anyone?
One of the biggest issues with incontinence in the workplace is frequent trips to the bathroom. Many people are afraid they will look like they are trying to get out of doing their work by frequently leaving their work stations. Other jobs, like Foreman’s, require lifting that may increase incontinence.
Should you tell your supervisor or other coworkers about your incontinence? Dr. Connell thinks so.
"Although it can be very [difficult] to tell others at work about a urinary problem, it is probably better in the long run if the problem is severe enough," says Dr. Connell. "If a coworker is constantly leaving the work area, others may perceive them as lazy and irresponsible and start to question their work ethic."
Dr. Connell says that in general, it is better to see a physician first and have a formal diagnosis. That way there is no question, and his or her boss can make necessary arrangements to enable the best environment for the employee.
"It is also important to know that many people have bladder control problems," says Dr. Connell. "It is a lot more common than you think, and there are likely other [people] in the office who also have bladder [control] issues and may be supportive."
Help from Human Resources
Approaching your employer with the problem may be difficult, but the benefits of getting your supervisor on your side can be many. You don’t want your employer to question your work ethic because of frequent trips to the bathroom.
Ruhal Dooley is a human resource (HR) expert and information specialist for the Society of Human Resources Management. Dooley says going to your company’s HR department should be your first stop.
"It is to an employer’s advantage to make accommodations to an employee’s reasonable request," says Dooley. "If you have a special need they may be required by law to accommodate you."
According to Dooley, an employee should not be hesitant about approaching the HR department. "That is what HR is there for," he says. "They will let you know what sort of documentation you need for the request to go through."
Dooley says it just makes sense for an employer to be reasonable about this issue. If productivity is what your employer is after, then a contented employee whose needs are being met is a must. Though it may be difficult to deal with incontinence at work, the results will be well worth it for you and your employer.