Novartis Pharma Program Helping Young People with MS Get And Keep Jobs

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by Charles Moore |

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Most employers these days talk about having workforce diversity oriented policies that support hiring people living with disabilities and chronic diseases, but what distinguishes rhetoric from reality? What in positive, practical terms can companies do in support of helping people living with visible or invisible challenges find and keep gainful employment?

Using multiple sclerosis (MS) as an example, people living with MS typically battle symptoms like fatigue and body temperature regulation issues that can pose challenges in the workplace. Statistically, half of persons already employed at the time of their MS diagnosis will join the ranks of the unemployed within ten years according to metrics cited by drug-maker multinational Novartis Pharmaceuticals. The operative question is in this instance is: “how can employers help young people living with MS not only find employment, but more importantly, keep their jobs?”

The campaign theme for World MS Day 2015 on May 27 was access. Equality of access doesn’t just mean physical access to buildings, but access to the same tools, services, facilities, and opportunities people who don’t have MS enjoy, such as access to diagnosis, treatment and support; access to buildings, travel and leisure facilities; and access to education, training and employment.

Seventy percent of persons with MS are diagnosed between the ages of 20 and 40, and most are employed at the time. The average age of diagnosis for MS is currently around 29 years but as awareness of this disease and its ramification grows and healthcare facilities improve more and more persons with MS are being diagnosed earlier in life, in some some cases even before the age of 20. Among those who have jobs when they’re diagnosed, half will be unemployed within three years.

One contributing factor to that is lack of awareness on the part of many employers regarding what are often very basic or only moderately disruptive adaptations people with common MS symptoms like fatigue, bladder control issues or blurred vision will need to make in order to cope. In other instances it boils down to willingness of the employer to give young people with multiple sclerosis the opportunity they need to successfully negotiate the hurdles posed by MS. When that willingness is absent, everybody loses: the directly affected lose out on earning an income and the sense of independence that goes with that, while inflexible employers lose the potential persons with MS have to offer in the workplace, and society loses valuable contributors.

The five most important measures cited by persons with MS as enabling factors for their continued ability to stay in the workforce are stabilized symptoms assisted by effective treatment, supportive employers and colleagues, seated work, flexible working hours, and computer adjustments to accommodate their condition.

In aid of putting pro-active substance behind its employment diversity affirmation, Novartis Pharma has teamed up with the European Multiple Sclerosis Platform (EMSP) organization — the voice of people with MS in Europe — and joined their Believe and Achieve program as a corporate partner, providing employment placements for young people living with MS. Through this program, participants have the opportunity to work as a trainee for a minimum of six-months through a paid, supported, and mentored work-placement with an EMSP corporate partner.

EMSP says that businesses that opt to involve themselves with Believe and Achieve will discover that becoming a partner and supporter of this project will mean great deal more than simply offering a helping young people in disadvantaged circumstances a helping hand. EMSP believes that businesses will also benefit in terms of human resources, positive national and international media coverage and an enhanced public relations image, to mention some key examples of advantages in participating.

Involvement in Believe and Achieve will boost a company’s brand image by promoting participating forms as equal opportunities employers – not only in lip-service but in demonstrable practice. In a many cases, all a young person with MS needs in order to kick-start a productive and successful career is the opportunity.

Believe and Achieve will provide the opportunity to employers to promote their organisation as an outstanding best-practices-implementing employer. Making the minor required adaptations to can create an appropriate working environment for young people with MS will benefit both parties, and EMSP will support employers’ specific efforts by providing the know-how in terms of MS workplace adaptations.

Establishing Bridges To MS Communities

Moreover, by recognizing the value of diversity, a company can expand its market potential and appeal. EMSP notes that establishing linkage with young people who have MS also means establishing bridges to entire MS communities represented by 38 national MS organisations in 34 European countries. Collaboration with EMSP can consequently facilitate access to a very broad talent pool and with that, open access to new business opportunities.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Believe and Achieve offers enlightened employers opportunity to upscale their corporate social responsibility (CSR) profiles. In this case, providing opportunities for young people with MS enhances the wellbeing of entire families, since for each person with MS living in Europe, at least other four other persons are peripherally affected as close family members, full-time or part-time caregivers or otherwise involved in supporting a person with MS whose unemployment exacerbates dependency. Employment, by contrast, creates more and better prospects for both individuals with MS and their loved ones and/or caregivers — and ultimately, a better outlook for society at large.

Believe and Achieve can additionally serve as a starting point for future initiatives on workplace legislation encouraging employment of people with disabilities. MS advocates, patient organisations and representatives of the broader MS community are working toward the forging of closer ties and creation of a platform and forum for ongoing dialogue and consultation. It is hoped that this will influence mutually beneficial legislative changes and possibly introduce further financial incentives for hiring people with disabilities or state sponsored training programs involving employees with disabilities and their employers.

For example, the Novartis Fourth Annual International Multiple Sclerosis Patient Summit recently wrapped. The Summit brought together people living with MS from around the world to share their perspectives on patient engagement in the entire healthcare continuum from research and treatment to healthcare decisionFor more information, search #ThinkMS on Twitter. The idea for Believe and Achieve gelled during a series of employment-related workshops involving young people with MS organized at the EMSP Spring Conference in 2013.

Participants indicated that exploring employment opportunities and making decisions about their career is one of the most important issues for planning their futures, stressing that work can add a sense of purpose, dignity and social connectivity to the incentive of having a steady income. At the end of the workshops, participants voted on a list of possible EMSP initiatives in the employment field — the first being brokerage of internships for young people with MS across Europe.

Paid Internships For Persons With MS

Beginning in January 2015, EMSP and its corporate partners have made 16 paid internships available to young people with MS across Europe. THe organization strongly encourages more young people with MS to apply and more businesses to join.

Trainee placements are based in several locations across Europe, with roles at different levels giving opportunity to those with specific experiences and qualifications. Applicants can apply for the different roles available through Believe and Achieve, competing with other applicants as they would when applying for any other job.

However, Believe and Achieve offers unique workplace adjustments for persons living with MS that will help them stay employed once they start working, such as: more flexible working arrangements,
accessible building entrances, clearly defined work descriptions and plans, and a quiet rest area.

Opening Communication With Human Resources And Line Management

A MS diagnosis for a young person will impact different aspects of their life, including their career aspirations and prospects. The Believe and Achieve Program not only provides a MS-friendly employment opportunities, but helps participants gain the self-confidence they need to start or refresh career goals.

Listening to patient organizations and advocates informs a company’s perspective and helps them to better understand the needs of people living with and impacted by disease and illness.
Gathering personal data and learning from these insights has led to a global movement.

For example, Novartis supports the #MSLifeHacks campaign that is hosted on the Living Like You global online platform. Life hacks are creative ways to make everyday tasks simpler. For the each of the next 365 days that began in February, 2015, the site is sharing a new trick, shortcut, or clever way to live well for people living with MS or who have been touched by the condition.

Novartis notes that health issues impact all of us in one way or another, and regardless of the particular disease, our shared health experiences unite us as a global community. Positive and effective corporate disease awareness and support programs will need to focus on the true needs of people living with and impacted by disease and/or disability, and strive to offer innovative solutions to empower, inform and inspire.

Novartis Pharmaceuticals
European Multiple Sclerosis Platform (EMSP)
World MS Day 2015


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