What not to say to an employee returning to work after a serious health issue

What not to say to an employee returning to work after a serious health issue

This is the third post in a series for line managers who have a team member returning to work after a serious health issue, and are wondering how they can best support their employee. Rather than focus on HR policies and employment law, what I’ll share here are the subtle and often unseen aspects which can help the employee’s return to work or derail it. Knowing about them will enhance your ability to relate empathetically with your employee and support them, which is a key ingredient for a working relationship built on trust. This in turn can enhance employee engagement and loyalty. The previous posts are here and here

Saying the wrong thing is probably what line managers fear most when dealing with a colleague returning to work after a serious health issue. You don’t want to ‘put your foot in it’, upset someone who has already been through a difficult time, and embarrass yourself in the process. But you wonder, ‘What should I say?’

In this post, I’ll give you some pointers and guidelines to help you have a meaningful conversation with someone who has been through a difficult time and cut the chances of ‘putting your foot in it’.

conversation with ill employee

Putting your foot in it. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

Stop focusing on yourself

When we are worrying about ‘putting our foot in it’, our attention is on ourselves.

And the nature of this attention is anxiety.

We can end up having conversations from that place. Which isn’t exactly helpful for getting a good outcome for you, your employee, the team and organisation.

Only you can change that. This is how you can get out from in front of yourself.

Trust yourself to do a ‘good enough’ job.

Prepare for conversations. What outcome would you like for the person returning to work? For you? For the team? For the organisation? What do you know already? What don’t you know? What questions do you have? Learn about your employee’s health issue. Consult your HR colleagues (please) and an Occupational Health advisor if you have access to one.

If you feel yourself worrying about what to say, switch your focus from yourself to the person in front of you and on exploring the issue at hand with them. Without wanting to sound clichéd, you are both collaborators exploring unchartered territory. It’s about finding a way forward together. So you each have something to contribute. Focus on empowering your employee to make their contribution.

Please don’t start sentences with ‘At least…’

 

At least you are here now. That is the most important thing.

At least your case was mild and you can walk.

At least your other half didn’t die.

conversation with ill employee

Stating the obvious. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

Or a variation of ‘at least’, such as ‘It could have been so much worse…’

Or tell a story of someone who had been in a similar position and how the person in front of you is in a better place.

You may be saying that from a very good place. You are happy that the person’s illness was mild in the scheme of things, that they didn’t die, and you are trying to express that. You may be trying to help them put their experience into the context of a bigger picture.

‘At least’ and its variants invite a comparison

And it’s the type of comparison which can often minimise and discount the person’s experience and their ability to evaluate their own experience. In effect, one is saying, ‘Your experience wasn’t that bad,’ and ‘Don’t you realise how lucky you are?’

The person may have found their experience very difficult and uncertain. For all we know, it might have been the most difficult thing they have faced in their life so far. We can get an idea for what someone else is feeling if we’ve had a similar experience and/or a well-developed ability to empathise. But if the experience isn’t our own, we don’t own it, and so it is hard to truly ‘know’ another person’s experience.

When you are on the receiving end of ‘At least…’, you can feel judged and ‘less than’

The person knows how lucky they are to be back at work. It can feel insensitive to be told something that is obvious. It can shut the conversation down. The person on the receiving end of ‘at least’ may think, ‘My line manager doesn’t get it.’ Going forward, they may operate from that basis, correctly or not.

You can see how these small things we say and how we say them can lead to disconnection. A build up of them can lead to distrust and possibly a breakdown in the relationship.

And watch your use of ‘…but…’

That’s a good idea, but I’m not sure people will be open to working like that.

The word ‘but’ also discounts and minimises what comes before it.

Use ‘and’ instead. And connects things together and gives both equal weight.

That’s a good idea and I’m not sure people will be open to working like that. How can we approach them with this idea?

Here’s another hint. When you use the word ‘and’ in this way, say it like you would any other time. I’ve heard people use ‘and’ in place of ‘but’ and give it so much stress, that ‘and’ felt like it had the same meaning as ‘but’. (Say that last sentence substituting the underlined and with but and you’ll see what I mean.)

Avoid ‘Don’t you think…?’ questions

Questions starting with, ‘Don’t you think…’ are leading questions. Say what you really mean instead.

For example, if by saying, ‘Don’t you think XYZ is possible?’ you are thinking/wondering that XYZ is a viable option, then say that. ‘I was wondering if XYZ could be an option because of ABC. What are your thoughts?’

Depending on the person you are speaking to, if they are a subordinate or someone who doesn’t willingly give their own views, you may need to give them permission to disagree with you. And if they disagree, avoid rushing in with a response that starts with ‘But…’ as that will kill what could be fruitful disagreement, the kind that leads to an even better solution.

Use open questions

Those questions starting with ‘what’ and ‘how’, they are your friend. Use them.

Questions starting with ‘why’ are ok and sometimes can invite a defensive response depending on the topic of conversation and the relationship between you and your employee. If in doubt, use ‘how come’ instead.

Questions starting with ‘where’ and ‘when’ are good for fact checking and establishing the way forward, ‘When will you be able to finish that report by?’ ‘Where can we have that meeting?’

Focus on yourself

I started this post by saying don’t focus on yourself. Now I’m telling you to focus on yourself. Might be confusing but I’ll explain.

When you are conversing with someone, it’s important to track how you are feeling in relationship to the person you are speaking with. It’s noticing when you feel in rapport with the other person, if you are feeling anxiety or confused, have questions, you are both in agreement or something else. It’s being aware of when you are helping yourself and the other person, and when you are getting in your own way.

Increased awareness of how you are in relationship with others gives you more choices, which in turn can increase your flexibility to adapt your approach. Being able to do that in the moment gives you more influence and enables you to stay in control of yourself and your role in the conversation. This is a skill that takes time to develop because you are learning to balance your attention on yourself and the other person.

You are the expert on you and it’s important to keep developing that expertise.

behaviour flexibility

Listening to yourself to adapt your approach. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

What’s it like for you?

If you have any examples of what to say or not when helping an employee transition back into work after a serious health issue, share them here. To ensure confidentiality make sure examples do not name companies or people.

If you have an employee returning to work after long-term sick leave and want some support to ensure a smooth enough transition, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

Helping an employee return to work after a serious health issue – What not to do (part 2)

Helping an employee return to work after a serious health issue – What not to do (part 2)

If you’re helping an employee return to work after a serious health issue, you may be wondering how you can best support them. The employee may have been on long-term sick leave and is keen to return.

You want that too but based on discussions with them, HR and/or occupational health, you have concerns. You may feel it might be too early and are wondering what to do. Should the employee return now or wait a bit?

There isn’t a magic wand answer that works for everyone when helping an employee return to work

That’s because every person, line manager employee relationship, organisation, illness and its recovery process are different. My aim is to explain the reasons people often want to return to work (sometimes early), what to avoid doing and what you can do.

This is the second post in a series for line managers who have an employee returning to work after a serious health issue, and are wondering how they can best support them. Rather than focus on HR policies and employment law, I share the subtle and often unseen aspects which can help an employee’s return to work or derail it. Knowing about them will enhance your ability to relate empathically with your employee and support them, which is a key ingredient for a working relationship built on trust, and can enhance employee engagement and loyalty. You can read the first post here.

return to work after illness

The desire to return to work. B Babcock 2017.

Helping an employee return to work often takes more than one person to make it happen

Don’t assume you can sort it all yourself. This is not a situation you may often deal with at work so make sure you get support. You’re learning too. Not speaking to your HR team and any occupational health services you have access to could result in you saying and doing the wrong thing from a legal perspective.

WHAT TO DO: Speak to your HR team, occupational health, and where appropriate other managers who have been through a similar situation. Read information by charities and the NHS about the illness your employee has. I’ve heard many people express appreciation for a line manager’s willingness to learn about their health issue in order to help them have a good return to work.

Don’t assume they would rather be off sick and are returning to work only for the money

I’ve heard line managers say, ‘Yeah, they’re only returning to work because the money the company pays over and above statutory sick pay is going to finish. They always return then.’

Whether or not the employee feels ready to return to work, money could very well be the reason they do so. The employee may be the sole or primary bread winner, may not have much savings, and needs the money to pay their rent or mortgage and/or support their family.

Your employee may have critical illness cover, but their illness/condition/injury may not be covered. If it is, it doesn’t guarantee your employee will receive a pay out. And if they can, it can take some time. I’ve seen it take 6 months.

Finances can be a major concern for people who are experiencing a serious health issue. And this is on top of dealing with the illness, recovery, and learning to live in a changed body.

WHAT TO DO: If your organisation offers its employees access to a confidential financial advice service, consider mentioning that it’s offered by the company to all employees. The Citizens Advice Bureau can also provide advice or the charity of the illness/condition your employee has (if a charity exists for their issue).

Don’t dismiss your employee’s optimism regarding their return to work if you think they aren’t ready

Many times, your employee is keen to return to work, despite the questions and fears they may have. Work gives us a routine in our lives, and as routine implies predictability, this gives us a sense of safety and normality. After a serious illness/injury, returning to a sense of normality is what people very much want.

Returning to work can also be a sign to the individual that they are indeed getting better.

Work also provides us with an opportunity to contribute, help others, and achieve, all which contribute to our wellbeing. Those opportunities are also great ingredients to grow our confidence and self-worth, which often take a beating during a period of serious ill health when people cannot do very much physically and/or mentally and have to depend on others.

Your employee’s keen-ness could be linked to their desire to get better, return to normality and restore confidence

WHAT TO DO:

  • Use opened ended questions to explore what your employee is looking forward to when they return to work, their concerns and the support they need and want from you – What are you looking forward to? What are your concerns? What support would you like from me? Find out if they want their colleagues to know what they have been through and how that information will be shared. Not everyone will want their colleagues to know though.
  • Keeping in touch with the employee whilst they are on sick leave can help the employee still feel connected to work, and help you and they gauge when the return to work can start. But some employees may not be up for having regular contact. They may not feel well enough or just want to be by themselves or with family during this time. If you don’t have much contact with your employee, remember that it doesn’t mean they are not keen to return to work.

Don’t assume your employee’s recovery will be just like your family member, relative, or friend who had the same illness/condition

It won’t. See next point.

Don’t assume that once your employee has returned to work all is back to normal regarding their health

I referred to this idea in the first post on this topic where I cautioned against assuming that recovery means ‘cure’.

Regardless whether your employee returns to work too early or not, something can happen resulting in them having to return to sick leave or slow down their phased return.

When you get a life-changing serious illness, you don’t know what you don’t know so you can’t predict how smooth or not your recovery will be. A medical prognosis is the hoped-for outcome and you can do all you can to maximise it, but that doesn’t guarantee it.

There are many sources you can learn from about an illness and dealing with it, but illnesses affect each person differently, so every person’s recovery path will be different. The recovery process is one where you learn as you go.

Therefore, your employee can’t make predictions about their recovery and how they will cope with working, so they may not always be 100% sure when is the ‘right’ time to return to work. When you balance the pros and cons for all parties involved, there may never be a ‘best’ time either.

WHAT TO DO: You and the employee can ask yourselves and discuss when is it a ‘good enough’ time for the employee to return. You can also offer confidential 1-1 support via a third party such as a coach or your Employee Assistance Programme when helping an employee return to work.

Don’t rush to the assumption that your employee can no longer do their job

Your employee may return to work earlier than they feel ready to because they are worried about losing their job. They may fear that people will think they can’t do the job anymore and find a replacement.

WHAT TO DO:

  • Keep in mind that a change in physical or mental functioning may not necessarily mean a person can no longer do their job. A temporary or permanent change to how your employee does their job or even the job they do may be required. External confidential 1-1 support as mentioned above can also help the employee figure out what adjustments they may require and even alternative jobs they can do.
  • Plan with the employee and be prepared to change that plan. Meet regularly. The plan may not turn out to be a smooth upward trend of your employee going from zero to hero according to timing guidelines in HR policies.
return to work after illness

From zero to hero. The hope when returning to work after long-term sick leave. B Babcock 2017

Ongoing communication and trust is critical in helping an employee return to work

Here are two things you can do to help that.

  1. Check your assumptions. When preparing for meetings and during them, ask yourself, ‘What am I think about this employee and their return to work situation so far? And what I aiming to achieve in this meeting? What does all that assume of the employee, of the process we are working through, and of myself’ This self-observation can help you catch assumptions which may not help you and your employee achieve the common goal of their successful return to work.
  1. Be prepared to listen to understand first before making yourself understood. If you experience inner head chatter when listening to others, bring your attention back to what the person is saying. This saying can be a great reminder to do that: You’ve got two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.
how to improve listening skills

Seek to understand before making yourself understood. B Babcock 2017.

What’s it like for you?

If you have any best practice or what not to do when helping an employee return to work after a serious health issue, share them here. Just remember confidentiality and ensure examples cannot identify companies or individuals.

If you’re helping an employee return to work after long-term sick leave and want some support to ensure a smooth enough transition, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

Helping an employee return to work after serious illness? What not to do

Helping an employee return to work after serious illness? What not to do

As a line manager, you may have questions on how best to support your employee to return to work after serious illness or injury. What to do, what not to do, etc. On top of that, it’s not easy when a team member suddenly becomes seriously ill or has a serious injury and they are on long-term sick leave. You have to reorganise priorities, who is doing what, and may still be expected to get all the work done regardless of having one less person in the team. That can add to any pressure you may already be feeling. There is also the genuine concern you feel for your colleague.

When you hear that your employee is ready to return to work, there is that sense of relief. They will be able to take back the elements of their job you and others may have been doing so you want to help them get up to speed as quickly as possible. And the team will be complete again.

Given your employee may still be recovering from their health issue as they return to work, I share some of the finer points of what to do (and what not to do) to help you support your employee.

What I’ll share here regarding helping an employee return to work after serious illness or injury

Rather than focus on HR policies and employment law, what I’ll share here are the subtle and often unseen aspects which can help the employee’s return to work or derail it. Knowing about them will enhance your ability to relate empathically with your employee and support them, which is a key ingredient for a working relationship built on trust. This in turn can enhance employee engagement and loyalty. I have accumulated the information and advice I will share in this series over 8 years from my personal experience returning to work after a serious illness, supporting a loved in the same position, coaching clients, and supporting many other people through a charity I led. And if you are the employee returning to work, you’ll find something of value here too.

supporting employees returning to work after serious health issue line manager concerns

A line manager’s concerns. B Babcock 2017

Don’t assume that ‘recovery’ means your employee is ‘cured’ 

In our society, recovery from illness or injury is often assumed to mean that the person goes back to the way they were prior to the illness/injury and will be able to function and be the same person as before. Your employee may recover from the worst of the illness/injury but their body may be changed forever.

They may not have the stamina to work 8am to 7pm for any stretch of time, if at all. Or they may have acquired a disability. Or they may have ongoing symptoms which they need to manage. Sometimes these disabilities or symptoms are invisible such as continence issues, fatigue, chronic pain, or mental health issues. These can impact what your employee can do, where they can do it, how they do their job, and even impact the extent to which they can take part in work-related social activities.

So the commonly understood meaning of ‘recovery’, i.e. the person is ‘cured’, is often misplaced with many illness and injuries. If we as line managers assume our employees are ‘cured’, but that is not the case, we can end up having unrealistic expectations of the employee and their current capabilities. A downward spiral in the relationship can start.

Don’t expect your employee to go from zero to hero quickly

 

return to work after illness

From zero to hero. The hope when returning to work after long-term sick leave. B Babcock 2017

Organisational policies may provide guidelines on how long a phased return to work typically takes and there may also be unspoken expectations. Even though your employee may have been through the acute phase of recovery, their bodies may still be in recovery mode when they return to work. Also, recovery isn’t always a straightforward process. Setbacks are common and they can cause delays in the phased return to work. So your employee may not go from zero to hero according to explicit or implicit time expectations.

For example, if your employee has been treated for cancer and given the all clear, they may still experience fatigue and what is known as ‘chemo brain’  from the treatment they’ve had. This will impact how long they can work and how much they can do when they are there.

Or an employee has a heart attack at a young age. Just when they start the phased return to work, chest pain sets in which means commuting is impossible and more tests are needed to determine what is going on. The employee is back on sick leave.

Remember that your employee is also adjusting psychologically to what they’ve experienced

To the changes in their body and the impact that has had on their wider life. This adjustment can take time. They may also be managing their fears, concerns and hopes regarding their return to work:

  • What do I say to people? Do I want to say anything? What will they say to me?
  • Will I cope ok? How much will I be able to do? Can I do the job? I hope so.
  • Will I be seen as not coping, looked over for projects and promotions? Or worse, will I lose my job?
  • I just want to be seen as normal.

And maybe even,

  • Do I still want to do this job?

All this can be a lot for your employee to be experiencing. Given that and the recovery process is often not predictable, the phased return may not follow pre-defined timescales. I have seen phased returns take up to a year.

How can you support your employee to return to work after serious illness or injury?

Be mindful what you think recovery means

Be mindful of how you view recovery in the context of illness/injury. Think about what you expected and assumed of yourself the last time you were ill, even if it was a cold or flu. I write this because we can end up acting on what we assume a recovery should be without awareness of that. If a person’s recovery does not match our definition, then misunderstandings can happen and suspicion creep in. Being aware of our own approach to recovery can help us keep our own biases and assumptions in check and make different choices in how we relate to people.

Recovery doesn’t work to business timescales

Sometimes the recovery doesn’t go to plan despite your employee doing everything they can to maximise it. We do have influence over our bodies, but we can’t directly control everything about it (people can directly control their breath, mind, and muscles). It’s frustrating for you as the line manager as you were looking forward to having the team be complete again and moving forward. It’s frustrating for the employee too and sometimes scary when there’s a setback in recovery.

Reasonable adjustments can make all the difference

As your employee may be dealing with long-term physical and/or psychological changes, reasonable adjustments are important and maybe even changes to the role they do. Be prepared to educate your employee on the concept of reasonable adjustments, how the process works, and that it is a collaborative effort between you both. In my experience supporting people returning to work, many employees do not know of this concept and what is possible. There can also be an expectation that the employer mainly sorts it out. Help them to help you by empowering them with the knowledge.

what are reasonable adjustments

Explaining reasonable adjustments. B Babcock 2017

As you work together to determine the reasonable adjustments to make or even permanent changes to the role they do, keep in mind that not everyone can find the words to say how their illness/injury affects them and so what type of adjustments they might need or the kind of role they might be able to do. Also, for some people, talking out loud about their health issues makes the experience so much more real and they may be afraid of that. Or they just might be sick of talking about their health issue. Or your employee may be concerned about how you may perceive them, i.e. being too ‘weak’ to do the job or too ‘needy’.

Get support to support your employee in their return to work after serious illness or injury

This is where working with a coach or counsellor can help. The employee has a confidential place to explore this with the support of someone who can help them find the words to express themselves, identify their needs, skills and strengths. This can enable your employee to come to planning meetings prepared and ready to contribute.

You and your employee may have the same concerns

Lastly, keep in mind that you and your employee can often end up having similar fears, concerns and hopes just from different perspectives. You may be hoping the employee isn’t ‘pulling the wool over your eyes’, the employee is hoping you believe them. Your employee wants to be able to do the job and hope they can, and you want the same.

What’s it like for you?

What have you done to help an employee return to work after serious illness or injury? And when have you seen it not go well? I’d love to hear your examples. Just keep in mind confidentiality and ensure examples cannot identify companies or individuals.

If you have an employee returning to work after long-term sick leave, or you are the employee, and want some support to ensure a smooth enough transition,

have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

Pass it forward

Know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

When returning to work after a long-term illness goes wrong

When returning to work after a long-term illness goes wrong

You are returning to work after a long-term illness or injury and asking yourself the questions: Can I even do what I used to do? Do I want to? Will my health issue prevent me from getting good projects and promoted? How do I talk about what happened and do I want to? I look ok, but will they believe that I don’t always feel well?

In the past year or two, maybe you’ve had cancer, a heart attack, or experienced a spinal cord injury or the onset of diabetes. Or a fluctuating condition like Multiple Sclerosis, Transverse Myelitis, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. You experienced a health crisis that has irrevocably changed your body and your life. Getting back to work is important to you, not only because of your financial situation, but it’s also a return to some kind of normality.

alt="Control Dice Life"

Photo taken by B Babcock 2015.

Or as an HR or line manager, you want to do what you can to ensure the employee’s transition is smooth

You play a key role in managing the transition for these employees returning to work after a long-term illness and want to ensure they transition successfully. But you may be wondering what is good and appropriate for the person, how you determine that and talk about it with them.

With some returning employees, there may be obvious issues and concerns with their re-integration. For others, the issues may remain unseen and unspoken. As an organisation you’ve done everything you need to be doing and are wondering if anything else is out there to help these employees’ transition back into work.

What can make returning to work after a long-term illness go wrong

There can be many things which disrupt a return to work after a long-term illness and some of the most common in my experience have been:

  • The nature of the relationship between employee and employer prior to the employee’s health crisis
  • The psychological impact of the health crisis on the individual
  • Unconscious biases and societal stigmas regarding health, illness and disability and how these manifest themselves in the relationship between the returning employee, employer, and colleagues, and the official and unwritten ways of working in the organisation

A successful return to work is important given how much time we spend on it, the financial security it gives us, and the positive impact it can have on our wellbeing.

how-work-can-positively-impact-wellbeing

How work can positively impact wellbeing. B Babcock 2015

Learn about the issues the employee returning to work after a long-term illness or injury may be dealing with

Based on research I conducted for a MA in coaching psychology, I’ll be delivering a free webinar on 26 November, 6-7pm UK time. It will give you an insight into the psychological issues that are often at play for the returning employee. The webinar will also cover the unconscious biases and societal stigmas around health, illness, and recovery that can derail a return to work after illness or injury.

Using real-life anonymised case studies (permission obtained), the webinar will also demonstrate how coaching has helped this population address those issues and the skills returning employees may need to develop. The webinar will not be focusing on HR best practice and employment law.

If you are an HR professional or line manager, this increased understanding of the returning employee’s experience and awareness of societal stigmas will enable you to relate with a deeper level of empathy. That is a key cornerstone of trust, which is essential for good relationships at work.

If you yourself have recently experienced a health crisis and are returning to work, you may find the real-life examples in the webinar resonate with your own experience. You may also get ideas which you can use to ensure a successful transition back into work.

Register for the free webinar here “Supporting employees returning to work after a long-term illness/serious injury”.

It will take place on 26 November, 6-7pm.

About me

I worked in HR, specifically Learning & Development, in professional services both in the UK and abroad. As an accredited coach with the International Coaching Federation, I help individuals who have experienced a medical crisis and want to find a way to live well with the impact.

In addition, I lead the Transverse Myelitis Society, a national UK charity which supports people with rare neurological auto-immune conditions and have implemented a coaching scheme for members. My inspiration for this work comes from personal experience and the belief that it is possible to re-create and live a full and meaningful life within the realities of a challenging health issue. And that work can play a positive role in that.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2015

What makes being employed with a long-term illness work?

Wondering what makes being employed with a long-term illness work is a common thought among line managers of such employees. Their employee may need to take significant time off for appointments, treatments and recovery.

As a line manager, it’s not easy having people on leave for long periods of time and you wonder how will you ensure their work is covered in their absence. You may also be wondering what is the right thing to say and how best to handle the situation. Maybe you’ve spoken to other line managers but are not comfortable with their suggestions or think that something is missing.

The missing ingredient which makes being employed with a long-term illness work less well

What is often missing in my experience is a demonstration of authentic empathy with the person affected and their situation. This can pay dividends and lead to the person returning to work with a renewed commitment to their role and employer. The following article demonstrates that. The gentleman featuring in the article experienced depression, had to take two months off, and was able to return to his role full-time.

The hidden crisis of depression at work (published on 9 December 2014 by People Management, the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development’s magazine for Human Resources and Learning & Development professionals)

(Depression at work is just one example of the financial and non-financial costs of long-term illness to the individual, his/her employer, and the economy.)

Some of the key things the employer did to enable this gentleman to return to work were underpinned by empathy.

  • How the line manager communicated with this employee.
  • The HR procedures, i.e. a phased return to work that was manageable for the gentleman.
  • The employee and HR department using his experience of depression for the benefit of others.

The power of empathy is what makes being employed with a long-term illness work

Empathy is key. It’s a cornerstone of trust and needed to build and sustain relationships.

Empathy is being able to stand (or sit) before a person, to look at them and recognise their emotions for what they are without judgement. It requires providing the space to listen to understand rather than listening to respond.

When you’re demonstrating empathy, you can imagine yourself in the person’s situation (or similar situation), whilst continuing to listen attentively AND containing any anxiety you may be feeling. In doing this, you’re non-verbally communicating, ‘I see, hear and recognise you. Your situation is valid. You matter.’

Empathy is an affirmation and validation of the other person. It’s not rocket science and is very powerful. It pays dividends in the workplace as per the words of the gentleman in the article: ‘I think it’s one of the reasons I am still working at…this sort of thing creates a strong bond.’

The foundation of a strong bond is empathy

And it’s empathy that makes being employed with a long-term illness work.

Over to you

In your experience, what makes being employed with a long-term illness work? Or not? If you’re a line manager who has dealt with employees on long-term sick leave, what did you do that enabled the employee to return to work? What did you learn from the experience? Share by leaving a comment.

Pass it forward

Know someone who would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2014

“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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