October 25, 2009
How to tell your office you're gravely ill
With today's cost-cutting employers keeping close tabs on worker productivity, no one wants to look like they're operating at less than 200 percent. Of course all this goes out the window if your body throws you a curve ball. Suddenly, recovering from an accident, treating a life-threatening illness, or otherwise regaining your health becomes your primary concern.
So how you tell your employer you have to spend the next eight weeks in the hospital recuperating? How do break the news that you won't be in on Fridays for the rest of the year because you have to undergo chemo? Are there things you can do to increase the odds that you hold onto your job? And how can you nip the office rumor mill in the bud?
For suggestions, I turned to Kairol Rosenthal, author of Everything Changes: The Insider's Guide to Cancer in Your 20s and 30s, and Melinda Villagran, associate professor of communication at George Mason University, who's researched and published extensively on communicating about serious illness in the workplace. Here are their top recommendations:
Be specific. When telling your boss and coworkers you'll be out of the office, don't leave them guessing, Rosenthal explains. "I'm having hip replacement surgery and my doctor expects me to be home recovering for four to six weeks" is preferable to the cryptic "I'm having some health issues and need some time off."
Keep your boss in the loop. Let your boss know you're eager to get back to work, Rosenthal advises. (Hey, a little bit of hide-covering can't hurt.) Stay in close contact with your manager throughout your recovery, she adds. That way, your team knows what kind of help you'll need, when to expect you back, and whether you can handle any telecommuting in the interim.
Choose an office advocate. If your diagnosis is grave, you may want to designate a trusted coworker as your unofficial spokesperson, Villagran suggests. That way, you won't have the added pressure of recounting the details of your illness over and over with officemates and clients for weeks to come.
Consider blogging. You can also keep colleagues and customers in the loop and exert some control over how your illness is perceived by blogging about it, Villagran says. That's what Q13 FOX news anchor Bill Wixey did when he was treated for Hodgkin's lymphoma this year. If you don't want to create a recovery blog from scratch, websites like Lotsa Helping Hands and Caring Bridge offer an easy, free platform you can use.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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