I was in a cafe with my husband and a friend of ours today. We all suffer from IBS and we were having a fairly open conversation about its joys, particularly how it affects us at work. Our friend said that he's left a room at work before, simply shouting "IBS!" behind him. I responded that there should be a new rule - if you work with someone with IBS, under no circumstances should you stop them for a chat while they're on their way to the loo.
Joking aside IBS at work is a serious issue and one which millions of us face. My survey gave me an interesting insight into the suffering of others. I kept it anonymous so I hope no-one minds me quoting them within this post.
I asked for yes and no answers, but several people elaborated on their responses.
Have you spoken to your manager or HR department about your IBS?
Yes - 34%
No - 66%
Do you have private i.e. completely blocked in loos at work that you can use?
Yes - 47%
No - 53%
Do you aim for the loos during quiet times or try use a more private loo whilst you are at work?
Yes - 66%
No - 34%
Have you ever had an embarrassing incident at work because of your IBS?
Yes - 47%
No - 53%
Would your work be understanding if you took time off or worked from home because of a flare up?
Yes - 50%
No - 50%
Have you ever been reprimanded or penalised for taking time off work due to IBS?
Yes - 16%
No - 84%
Do you think that stress causes or can exaggerate IBS symptoms?
Yes - 91%
No - 9%
Do you consciously avoid stressful situations at work because of your IBS?
Yes - 34%
No - 66%
Do you think that people with IBS should be considered when building new offices etc?
Yes - 60%
No - 40%
While it's great that not many of us have been penalised for taking time off or away from our desks due to IBS, not many of us are speaking to our bosses about it. So the conclusion is that many of us are hiding the situation as best we can. Is drawing attention to our condition a positive thing? Do we worry that once the long toilet breaks are explained then they are more noticeable? That is certainly how I feel. As one respondent put it "I worry that it detracts from my overall professional reputation."
I worked from home for a few years and I find that hiding my IBS now that I work in an office is a daily struggle. I don't want my toilet habits to become a running joke. I also get a few remarks about my 'bump' - "am I sure that it's not something else?" - definitely sure that's it's a poo baby, thanks for asking.
The question regarding stress and IBS garnered the strongest responses. I can't say that I personally suffer more with IBS when I'm stressed and I always denied any link in the doctor's surgery when the GP tried explaining that I should avoid it. (Didn't help that they starting saying this when I was about 12!) Beyond doubt there is a link between emotions and the bowel so it does add up that in times of high emotion, your digestion is under stress too. This delightful response puts it thus; "I pooed my pants when under severe stress from a deadline." Deadlines are unavoidable as is stress, so what is the answer? Clearly access to proper toilets should be paramount. If my colleague can chat to me from the other loo, then I'm having kittens worrying about any embarrassing noises I'm about to make. Closed in toilets, preferably with a window, should be mandatory. Not just for sufferers of IBS, but for sufferers of any bowel condition or incontinence etc. If you need any more convincing, how about this heart-wrenching response - "Messing your pants in public can ruin people's lives."
To conclude, IBS is a horrible condition that really does impact every day life. Should we start a movement (excuse the pun) to raise awareness in the workplace? Is our silence perpetuating the malaise surrounding the condition? Should we make it an open conversation just like my chat in the cafe earlier? We all poo, right? And I'm sure that more IBS sufferers would come out of the woodwork at work.
What do you think? Silence is golden or let's start the conversation?