Chronic fatigue syndrome is a long-term illness commonly associated with the symptom of extreme tiredness.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). It is estimated that 250,000 people in the UK have chronic fatigue syndrome. Chronic fatigue syndrome can affect anyone, including children and teenagers. The condition is more common in women than men, and tends to develop between your mid-20s and mid-40s. The main symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is feeling extremely tired. Additional symptoms include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Problems thinking, remembering or concentrating
  • Feeling dizzy or sick

There is no cure for chronic fatigue syndrome, but there are a variety of treatment options which can help reduce symptoms. For further information and support about managing chronic fatigue syndrome, visit the NHS website.

Managing work life

Some people with chronic fatigue syndrome will not be able to work at all, while others may be well enough to do an hour or two of work, at home or in the community, at times which accommodate the fluctuations of their illness. However, many people with mild to moderate chronic fatigue syndrome are able to work part time or even full time as they move into recovery.

Many people with chronic fatigue syndrome find pacing to be a useful technique to help manage day to day activities. However, everyone’s needs are different so general assumptions about a person’s abilities should not be made.

Pacing involves:

  • Taking short, regular rest periods throughout the day
  • Identifying activities which use energy (physical, mental or emotional)
  • Establishing a realistic, manageable baseline for each activity and once a baseline is established, increasing that activity by no more than 10%, until a new sustainable baseline is achieved

It is your own decision whether you choose to disclose your chronic fatigue syndrome to your employer. If you decide to inform your employer about your condition, then it can be helpful to also discuss your symptoms. This will help your employer to assess the types of reasonable adjustments they could offer to support you in the workplace.

For further advice and support about managing chronic fatigue syndrome and working, visit the Action for ME guidebook.

Advice for employers

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must consider making reasonable adjustments to employment practices and premises. Reasonable adjustments can vary according to an individual’s needs. Some examples of reasonable adjustments that may be beneficial to employees with chronic fatigue syndrome include:

  • Alteration to working hours
  • Flexible working, such as working from home, part time working, or job sharing
  • Changing tasks or the pace of work to avoid exacerbating the condition
  • Allowing for reasonable time off for appointments and treatment
  • Changing layout of workspace, such as providing a quiet working station
  • More frequent and longer breaks

Government funding is available to support employers introduce reasonable changes to the workplace. The Access to Work scheme provides practical advice and financial support to help overcome the barriers to work experienced by people who have long term health problems, including chronic fatigue syndrome.