Managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness

Managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness

Managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness or injury is key for a successful transition. But because it is about you managing your expectations of yourself, it can be one of the hardest things to do.

You are someone who believes in doing a good job. And you will go the extra mile to make that happen. After all, you have high standards and are proud of that and the work you do. It gives you great satisfaction.

You may also feel the need to prove to others that you can still do your job and do it well. And you enjoy your job and are keen to continue in your role.

So you try to do your job as best you can, as close as possible to how you did it before your illness/injury. But despite your best efforts, you are finding you can’t. You’re tired, maybe feeling dejected and not feeling like yourself anymore. You wonder if you can still do your job. And you may be afraid others are thinking you no longer can. You try to find the energy to plough on, to keep going in the hopes your recovery will kick in and you will soon feel like your old self.

Managing expectations of yourself when returning to work after #seriousillness or injury is key for a successful transition. Yet it can be one of the hardest things to do #returntowork tell a friend

 

It’s understandable

 

You don’t know any different. As I often say, you don’t know what you don’t know when you are seriously ill or injured. We know what the doctors and nurses tell us and the messages society gives us around health, illness and disability (the latter which may not be relevant to your situation or correct). We know how different our bodies feel. But we often aren’t given info on how to live well with the ongoing impact of a serious illness or injury including returning to work.

So how can you stay in work doing good work and being happy with that whilst dealing well with the impact of your illness or injury?

As I said up front, managing your expectations of yourself at work is key. There are four things you can do which will help.

  1. Adjust your expectations of yourself
  2. Learn how to live in your changed body
  3. Learn how to manage the impact of stress
  4. Set your boundaries with others on what you can and cannot do and stick to them

 

Four things you can do to manage your expectations of yourself when returning to work

 

These may feel like pretty chunky steps. And they are. This is an ongoing process. Not a tick box exercise where you do steps 1, 2, 3 and voilà you are a new person. So for a start I just give you some key tips for each and refer you to related blogs I have written on related topics. What I do know from my personal experience and that of my clients is that these steps work.

Read about the 4 things you can do to manage your expectations of yourself when returning to work after #seriousillness or #injury #returntowork tell a friend

 

Managing your expectations of yourself requires you to adjust your expectations

 

Adjusting your expectations of yourself requires you to acknowledge the changes you have experienced as a result of your illness or injury. The changes may include what you are no longer able to do or unable to do as well or as quickly. You may have very much valued what you were once able to do.

They could also be new things you have to do because of your illness/injury. Like having to know where the toilets are where ever you go outside your home due to having bladder and/or bowel issues. Having to inject insulin before every meal due to diabetes. Or eating more healthily and exercising more.

Acknowledging the changes you have had to make may or may not be easy as I mentioned in an earlier blog on returning to work. It depends on the type of change and whether you would have welcomed the change pre-illness/injury.

Adjusting your expectations of yourself at work requires you to acknowledge the changes you have experienced as a result of your #seriousillness or #injury #returntowork tell a friend

 

Linked to this is redefining who you believe yourself to be. This is about change at the core of you, your sense of identity, which is a fundamental change. This is a journey and can take time. Being willing to try on other ways of being and doing in the world can help you move through this stage with more ease and less emotional turmoil.

 

Redefining your identity is a fundamental change in belief about who you are

 

Managing your expectations of yourself requires you to learn how to live in your changed body

 

The blog I wrote on preparing for your return to work has tips which will help you learn how to live in your changed body.

Pacing yourself to manage your energy levels is a key part of this. Clients have said learning to do less at work, not trying to be the hero and fix everything, and taking regular breaks helped. Also, being willing to use aids that helped them manage their symptoms, such as a hot water bottle or a fan to cool themselves. Which aids you use will depend on the ongoing residual symptoms you live with.

Setting goals for your rehabilitation and returning to work will also help. As well as listening closely to your body and making adjustments to your routine as a result.

#pacing yourself to manage your energy levels is a key part of learning to live in a changed body after a #seriousillness or #injury and will help you adjust to the work routine #returntowork tell a friend

 

Managing your expectations of yourself requires you to learn how to manage the impact of stress

 

It’s important to manage stress because it can exacerbate any residual symptoms you may be living with. This is stress from external events and self-induced stress.

I’ve seen with clients how stress at work kept then awake at nights, the lack of sleep contributed to their fatigue, the fatigue meant they could not work or work as much as they would like, etc. It became a vicious circle.

Self-induced stress often comes from our habitual ways of being and doing in the world which no longer serve us. But we might have not yet realised that our habitual strategies have outlived their useful life. It’s important to identify these and make changes. One client made changes by identifying what was in her control to do and as a result she reported feeling less pain.

I also recommend you read these two blogs on using your personal power well to manage your health and wellness – part 1 and part 2.

Being very aware of what causes you to feel stressed and managing the impact effectively can reduce any negative impact stress can have. Important when you are returning to work after a #seriousillness or #injury #returntowork tell a friend

 

Managing your expectations of yourself requires you to set your boundaries with others on what you can and cannot do and stick to them

 

This is so important. And can be so hard to do. Because it means you have to say no to people. And sometimes we don’t like saying no because we feel we aren’t helping the other person and we like to help others. Or we feel obligated to do what other people need from or want of us. Or we feel a need to make others happy by doing what they want from us.

This also requires you to develop the belief (if you haven’t already) that you are important, your needs are valid, you are worth it, and so it is ok for you to put yourself first and look after yourself. AND to operate on that belief in your life.

What I wrote about managing others’ expectations of you in a earlier blog in this series on returning to work helps you to start setting those boundaries on what you can and cannot do.

And remember, boundaries can change for the right reasons during the process of returning to work.

How easy do you find it to set boundaries at work and stick to them when living with the impact of a #seriousillness or #injury? #returntowork tell a friend

 

But something else is key in all of this

 

The willingness to adapt and be flexible.

And being gentle with yourself. Shower yourself with compassion.

 

Picture of a woman showering herself with self-compassion

 

If you try something and it doesn’t work, focus on what you learned and try something else. Also make sure to have good people at work and in your life who encourage you.

Remember, you are doing the best you can in not the easiest of circumstances.

 

Picture summarising what you can do in managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness or injury

A summary of the blog on managing your expectations of yourself when returning to work after a serious illness or injury

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What aspects of the above blog resonate with your situation? What do you find difficult or easy to do? If you have returned to work after a serious illness or injury, what have you done to manage your expectations of yourself? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you will soon be returning to work after a serious illness or injury or are already in the process of doing so and want to work through the recommended steps in this blog with support, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I wrote this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

Managing expectations at work after illness or injury

Managing expectations at work after illness or injury

Managing expectations at work after illness or injury is so important in ensuring your return to work is a good enough transition. And linked to this is what you tell people.

You may be wondering what to say to people, if anything, about what happened to you. You may be thinking it’s none of their business, or maybe you wish to say something to certain people. Or maybe you are happy to tell people everything.

How much information we share is different for everyone, so it’s your decision regarding how much you share. However, how much you say to whom about the illness or injury you have (or had) has a link to managing expectations at work after illness. The expectations you have of yourself and what others have of you regarding what you can do at work after a serious illness or injury.

How much information you share about your illness or injury and its impact on you links to managing the expectations of yourself and others when returning to work #seriousillness #seriousinjury #returntowork #healthcoaching tell a friend

 

If expectations are managed appropriately, then everyone is on the same page and it limits misunderstandings. So this blog is meant to help you think through what you want to tell people and how much information you may need to give them so your return to work is a good enough transition. I give you a series of questions to help you do that.

 

Who do I need to tell?

 

It’s the key people you work with the most often and/or will be involved in your return to work. They typically include your line manager, their boss, Human Resources (HR), occupational health (if your company has one in-house or work with an external provider), fellow team members, and your own team if you have people reporting to you.

There may also be other people internally and externally in your organisation with whom you work. How much you tell them, if anything, can depend on the type of work you do together, how much you work with them, and your relationship with them. You don’t have to tell people everything. And some people don’t need to know anything.

 

What do these people expect of me?

 

Having an idea of what you think people may expect of you is a starting point for discussion. It’s also an opportunity to identify any assumptions you are holding about others which may not be true or helpful to your return to work.

Give these questions some consideration.

  • What do you think your line manager, their boss, HR, occupational health, fellow team members, people who report to you, and others expect of you in this return to work process (other people internally, clients, etc.)?
  • What do you expect of them? Your expectations may be different for each person. And there may also be themes in what you expect from people generally.
  • What do you expect of yourself?

 

Three questions to help you identify your own and others expectations of you when returning to work after illness

To manage expectations when returning to work after illness or injury, you need to know what they are.

 

Some common responses I’ve come across include:

  1. They will get rid of me if they knew I fall a lot/ am incontinent/ need to take more breaks, etc. (insert how you are affected now).
  1. I worry they will expect me to go back to the way I was before my operation. But I am not sure yet I can do everything I did before.
  1. I expect my employer to sort things so I can return to my job like before. There’s not much for me to do.
  1. I have no idea what to expect. My boss has changed and I haven’t even met the new boss yet.
  1. I have no idea what my team members expect of me. I don’t know what I expect from them.
  1. I expect it will take me a few weeks to adjust and then I’ll be fine to work full-time like before.

First, be wary of making assumptions of what others are thinking such as the ones in points 1 and 2. We cannot mind read and if we do and then act on those assumptions, we can end up creating a difficult situation for ourselves. And that is the last thing you want to do.

Make sure to check with your employer what they expect from you as you return to work after a #seriousillness #seriousinjury This can help you identify any unhelpful assumptions you may be holding #returntowork #healthcoaching tell a friend

 

I would caution against leaving your employer to do everything as suggested in point 3. If you do this, you kind of take yourself out of the process and become a passive recipient. And you may not like what comes your way. There are things you can do to help your employer help you. This blog and the previous two I wrote (here and here) about returning to work are meant to help you do that.

On points 4 and 5, then give a good think around the questions on what you expect from yourself and others. If you have a new boss you haven’t met yet, then that is an added consideration. You have a whole new relationship to establish. I won’t go into detail on this point, but I want to acknowledge that it can happen.

On point 6, prepared to be flexible on how long it will take you to adjust to working again and the changes which may have happened in the interim at work. Recovery from illnesses and injuries do not work to our own or others’ timescales. Sometimes the process may be slower than anticipated, or like two steps forward, three steps back. That is normal. When something like that happens, of course it’s disappointing. It is also a sign that we may have overdone it and it can give us information on where our limits currently are.

Be honest with yourself from the start and set a realistic timetable for returning to work. This can be revisited and adjusted as time moves on.

 

What information can help in managing expectations at work after illness?

 

I often find that the employer wants to know if you can do your job as you did before and how long it will take for you to get to that point. If you won’t be able to do your job as before, they often want to know why that is, and what does it mean for your future in terms of what you can do. And they want to know what you can do now.

This can feel kind of invasive. Your employer may want to know a lot about you. Knowing this helps them to plan on how to get the work done, and you and your job are a part of that plan. And you only need to give them information as it relates to you in your role at work.

I often find the employer needs reassurance from a third party ‘expert’ in your illness or injury, like your doctor, occupational health, and/or info from a charity. Some people who find their employers wanting such information can assume their employer doesn’t trust them and focus on that. And the relationship can go downhill from there.

When you assume that your employer doesn’t trust you and you operate from that assumption, it doesn’t put you in a resourceful state to deal with the situation. Instead, think of what information you can provide to back up what you are saying and to educate them regarding your needs. This can go a long way in managing your employer’s expectations.

 

How has the illness or injury affected me? How might that impact my ability to do the work I do with each of these people?

 

The previous blog in this series on returning to work addressed the question on the impact of your illness or injury on your capabilities to do the various parts of your role. That blog contains advice on how to start figuring that out prior to returning to work so I recommend a read.

Think through the role you do and how the illness/injury you have/had might impact your ability to do the work you do with each of these people.

Then ask yourself…

 

Based on that, in which parts of my job do I need support from others?

 

For example, some tasks may take longer because of fatigue, mobility issues or chemo brain and having longer lead times for projects would be useful. Or you may require help at times with finishing a task. Or you physically can no longer work the hours you used to so the amount of work you can do has to change.

Or you need to work two days a week from home because the commute is very energy draining so people need to know how to contact you. Or maybe you don’t need people’s support with certain tasks. But you just would like people’s understanding and patience.

Think through those tasks you may need help with, what you feel you can do, what you know you can no longer do, as this will help you identify your needs and where and when you may need help from others. Also think about who can provide support and what kind of support they might be able to provide. This is particularly relevant to those with whom you work closely – your boss, team members, and people who may work for you.

Share what you need from people. I know this may sound odd or even downright scary. In our society, it’s not looked on favourably to have needs and I wrote a series of blogs on that topic here. However, most people like to help others and are happy to. But to receive the right kind of help, you need to know what help would best suit you and to communicate that to people.

 

Most people are happy to help you during your return to work after a #seriousillness #seriousinjury But to receive the right kind of help, you need to know what help would best suit you and to communicate that to people… tell a friend

 

And based on that, how much information about the impact of my illness or injury should I give to people?

 

It can help to give people some information on the condition/injury you have to help them put into context the impact of that illness or injury on you and your current needs. So if you have fatigue and your brain works more slowly and you are in a job that requires a lot of brain power then you may wish to say how the illness/injury you had can cause fatigue and impact the brain.

This is particularly important for conditions where the impact on you is invisible, for example, fatigue or chronic pain. If you share nothing about the impact of your illness or injury, people may not understand why you require adjustments and support.

When people are left with little information, they often start to fill in the blanks themselves. And the story they create in their heads may not be correct, which won’t help you if they start acting on the story they have created. It makes it much more difficult for you to manage their expectations.

Also, I want to share a point on the concept of recovery. People often assume recovery from a serious illness or injury means you go back to the way you were. That is often not the case. Not only can your body be changed forever, but also how you feel in your body and about the whole situation and what it means for you. This is an area where stigma and bias can make an appearance. I’ve written about that and dealing with it here, here and here.

 

In our society there are biases and stigmas which surround recovery from an illness or injury.

The biases and stigma which surround recovery.

 

A side benefit of providing just enough information can be to educate and even reduce the stigmas and biases that exist in our society around the capabilities of people who have experienced a serious illness/injury. This too can help with managing expectations at work after illness.

You may not need to give everyone the same amount of info. Give people what they need to know in order to support you and you to support them. People may talk among themselves so you may find others you did not give much information to learn of additional information from others. So, if you don’t want people to share, say that up front. You can’t control whether they share or not at the end of the day. But you can state what you would like and if they have agreed to that but then act contrary to it, you can then go back and ask them why.

When returning to work after a #seriousillness #seriousinjury, you may not need to give everyone the same info about your illness/injury and how it affects you. Give people what they need to know in order to support you and you to… Click To Tweet
Questions to think about to help you in managing expectations at work after illness

Questions to download and have a think about.

 

Finally, regular meetings are key to managing expectations at work after illness

 

Regular meetings with the key people you work with are important to keep the lines of communication open, which in turn are important in managing expectations at work after illness. These meetings are good for discussing your progress, any challenges and planning how to meet them, how the support you need may be changing, and to discuss any updates on your medical situation which is relevant to your return to work. Occupational health can be involved in these discussions.

Given that there can be a lot of unknowns regarding your recovery – what your recovery will be like and how long that will take – these meetings also allow you all to acknowledge the unknowns and plan around them.

The people involved in these meetings are usually your line manager and maybe even HR. Meeting with team members and people who work for you tend to focus on the jobs you all do, progress being made, and what support you need from each other.

And if you demonstrate proactivity in these meetings by scheduling them or encouraging they are scheduled, coming prepared, sharing information relevant to your return to work, etc. that makes you look good. You are doing your bit to help your employer help you.

 

Picture of a woman being proactive in asking her boss for a meeting about her return to work after illness

No one will be proactive for you. It is only yours to do. Getting support can make it easier to do.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

How much information about your illness or injury are you comfortable disclosing to people you work with? What advice do you have to share on managing expectations at work after illness. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you will soon be returning to work after a serious illness or injury or are already in the process of doing so and want to work through the questions in this blog and have a sounding board as you do so, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I wrote this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

 

How to prepare for returning to work after illness

How to prepare for returning to work after illness

Prepare for returning to work after illness or injury. Is that a thing? You’ve been through a serious illness, perhaps life-changing for you in some ways, treatment has ended, your recovery is going pretty well and returning to work is now on the horizon. Hurrah!

You just want to get back to work. Back to normality! Your regular salary and not sick pay. Being with other people again. Making a contribution. There may be concerns and worries of course. But getting back to normality like work is a key milestone.

Then you get back to work, you go for it, and you crash. Hard. Your body isn’t coping. You have to go back on sick leave. You’re thinking, ‘What the… *insert fruity language*?!?! You feel so disappointed.

 

Pic of someone returning to work after illness and it doesn't go well

When the return to work doesn’t go to plan.

 

I totally understand how that can happen. It’s pretty common actually. If you’ve haven’t been seriously ill before, how would you know how to prepare for returning to work after illness or injury? You don’t necessarily know that stuff. It’s not like your doctor gives you an info sheet on it.

I’m going to share a few tips to help you avoid that. I split them into four categories – Mind, Heart, Body and your Role at work. This is about taking a holistic approach to prepare for returning to work after illness or injury.

Click here on how to prepare your mind, heart and body to return to work after a serious illness or injury. #returntowork #seriousillness #chronicillness tell a friend

 

How to prepare for returning to work – Your mind

 

Manage your expectations of yourself.

We often expect our return to work after illness to go like this.

Person returning to work after illness expecting a smooth return to work

People’s expectations for returning to work can often look like this

 

It’s more often like this.

Pic of a graph demonstrating that the return to work after illness is not smooth

A return to work after illness often looks like this.

 

Be gentle with yourself.

It’s very easy for your pre-illness expectations of yourself to come to the fore when you start returning to every day normal activities. It’s normal for this to happen because your pre-illness expectations of yourself are all you know. But I often see clients battle to live up to those expectations. And I use that word ‘battle’ on purpose. It’s like a fight, ‘I will not let this illness and these symptoms beat me. I will WIN! I WILL last the whole day at work!’

This kind of fight is a negative fight as you have actually handed over control to your pre-illness expectations. You have become their slave. It can be a very unhappy and frustrating place to be in when you find that no matter what you do, you can’t live up to those expectations.

The thing is, your pre-illness expectations may no longer match your body’s capabilities. Your body has changed. Therefore, your expectations of what your body can do also need to change. They need to align with your new capabilities.

Being able to adapt is key for this to happen. But with adaptation comes acknowledgement of what has happened to you. For some, this process of acknowledging the change can be hard.

This brings us to your Heart.

 

How to prepare for returning to work – Your heart

 

Losing valued levels of physical and/or mental functioning can be hard. Your body and/or mind no longer do what it used to do. What you need it to do. What you want it to do. It can feel like your body has betrayed you. And that you are at war with it. You may be feeling very angry.

You feel like you are no longer you. But you also know you are you. You can feel so contradictory. Your heart hurts.

It’s important to acknowledge how you are feeling. To give your feelings some expression, to spend some time with them. As I’ve said previously, you don’t have to unpack and live in those feelings forever and ever. You just visit. And the length of that visit is up to you. If how you feel can feel overwhelming, get support from someone who can help you spend a little time with the feelings to understand what they want to tell you.

Picture of person coping with unpleasant feelings

You don’t have to unpack and live with overwhelming feelings.

 

Also, speak gently and compassionately to yourself. You’ve been through a lot. It’s ok to move more slowly, to do less, to not do things as perfectly, to not achieve as much. Focus your energies on the things that matter to you.

Your heart will thank you for this. And you will feel better.

 

How to prepare for returning to work – Your body

 

Finally, it’s important to gently prepare your body to return to work. Returning to work after an extended period of probably not being very physically active can be very draining physically and mentally.

Think through your typical work activities and ways you can simulate them at home. The purpose of doing this is to really feel how you your body copes with them and learn where your limits are.

If you are returning to work gradually, for example, 3 days a week for 2 hours each day at the start, set up that routine at home.

Make sure you get up at the same time you will need to when you return to work. Wash, get dressed, eat. Go through that routine to see how your body copes. Set yourself activities to do in the time frame you will be at work – say 2 hours of paying bills, work on the computer, some errands (if you can do them), a bit of light cleaning, tidying, calling people.

You can simulate a meeting. For example, meet a friend for coffee and notice what it’s like for you to get to the coffee house, visit with your friend, deal with the noise around you and being in public, and return home.

Do these activities at different times of the day to see how your body responds.

As you do this, notice how your body feels. Do you feel really tired? Do your symptoms get worse? Or do you find the activities distract you from the symptoms? Do you find it doable? Or too much? Do you find you cope better in the morning or afternoon?

This will give you an idea of what your body is capable of and the tasks you can and may not be able to do back at work. Of course, what you can and cannot do may change the longer you simulate work activities at home and then when you are back at work.

Before returning to work, get your body ready by simulating your work routine at home. You will learn how your body copes, its limits, and what adjustments you may need back at work. Read more about it here. #returntowork… tell a friend

 

What does this all mean for your role at work?

 

After having simulated your work routine at home, think of your work environment. First, think about the physical environment: how furniture is arranged, is it open plan, do you not have a desk, the lights, getting to the different areas within the office you will need to go, etc. Is there anything there which may be an obstacle? Do you need to make a request for a reasonable adjustment? I wrote about what reasonable adjustments are last week and you can read more about that topic here.

Also think of the non-physical aspects of the environment. Does your work have a recommended time frame by which they expect you to return to work full-time? How flexible can that time frame be? (The after effects of illness and injury don’t often work to others’ time frames including your expected time frame.)

What is the culture like? Are your teammates helpful? Is your line manager understanding, and their line manager? And HR? Do you have people at work who can help you look after your interests, whether formally or informally? What support will you need? How will you manage the pressure?

I appreciate these are a lot of questions so take your time in thinking them through. I have just a few more questions about your role at work

What tasks can you currently do, cannot do at the moment, or you may no longer be able to do ever? This is important to consider because if you have an idea on this, you can communicate this to your employer at the appropriate time to help them help you return to work. Also, if you cannot do the significant tasks in your role, then you may need to consider doing a different role.

Let me give you an example. I once knew someone who worked in a department store arranging their displays. They were affected by an illness which affected their balance and mobility. So they were no longer able to climb up a ladder. This significantly impacted their ability to do their role. They had to change roles in the organisation which did not require them to climb up ladders and carry heavy items.

If you think you are no longer able to do your current role, or only a part of it, are there other roles you could and would like to do in your organisation? You may not have to ask yourself this question, but I ask it just in case you do. I’ve had people say to me if they had only thought that there could be alternatives, they would have thought them through. So think through possible alternatives if that is what you feel you will need.

Prepare for returning to work

Questions to ask yourself as part of your preparation for returning to work after a serious illness or injury.

 

Those are my key tips how to prepare for returning to work after illness. All the very best with your return. And come back next week when I will be sharing what to say to whom and managing your own and others’ expectations at work.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What key tips do you have to share with someone preparing to return to work after illness or injury? Has anything in particular worked for you? Or do you have questions about your situation? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you are living with a serious health issue, which may be a serious illness or injury or chronic illness, and will soon be or have returned to work and would like support to ensure it is an effective transition, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I wrote this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

 

Returning to work after a serious illness: What you need to know

Returning to work after a serious illness: What you need to know

Returning to work after a serious illness can feel like a relief. It’s a long-awaited return to normality. You may also have financial concerns of needing to make money again, wondering if you are ready to return, and just generally have anxieties and questions regarding the whole process.

Will you be able to cope? What will your colleagues say? What do you want to say to them? Will you be treated the same or different? How helpful will your employer be? You may feel a mix of contradictory emotions.

This is normal – feeling excited but having lots of questions and worries. To help answer some of these questions, I am bringing you a four-part blog series on what to consider when returning to work after a serious illness or injury to make it a successful transition. And today’s topic is…

 

Returning to work after serious illness – What you need to know

 

Returning to work after a serious illness involves a partnership between you and your employer. The quality of the relationship between you and your line manager and the organisation prior to you going on sick leave can impact this. However, as that can be a blog in and of itself, I am assuming that your relationship with your line manager and the organisation was in a good enough state prior to you going on sick leave.

There are things your employer can do for you during the transition. But to make sure what they do actually helps you, there are things you can do to help them. It’s a two-way street.

Pic of line manager and employee discussing emplpoyee's return to work and having a plan

Relationship with your line manager and organisation is a two-way street.

 

So here are 5 things to know about or do so you can help your employer help you.

When returning to work after a #seriousillness or #seriousinjury there are 5 things you can do to help your employer help you. It’s a two-way street. If you can do this, your return to work will be that much more successful. Read… tell a friend

 

1. Know your company’s sickness absence policy

 

You can find this in the employee handbook, which is more often than not on your company’s intranet. The sickness absence policy details the procedures around how your salary is dealt with, keeping in touch with you, if your employer wishes to learn more about how you are affected, what happens to your holiday and the process of returning to work. (What I am writing here refers to the United Kingdom. What is covered in a sickness absence policy in your country may differ.)

Knowing the policy helps you understand what guidelines your line manager and HR department are working to and why. Your employer may wish to keep in touch with you so they can see how you are doing, which can give them an indication to some degree on whether you are ready or not to return to work, but many times also out of genuine concern. They also may wish to keep you up to date with any changes at work.

However, your employer needs to know if you are capable of keeping in touch with them. For example, you may be so drained from treatment/surgery/chemotherapy/chronic pain, you may not have the energy for a phone call or visit. But also, it gives you an opportunity to let them know how you are doing and how ready or not you are to return to work.

The policy also lets you know what the boundaries are. For example, when returning to work after a serious illness you often return gradually over a period of time. The policy may state a period of time of 8 weeks for example.

However, illnesses, the recovery process from them, and any residual ongoing symptoms do not work to defined time periods like 8 weeks. Knowing about the time period though can help you gauge what you are ready to do. You may need a shorter or longer time for a gradual return to work, and if so, discuss this with your doctor in the first instance. You may can then discuss this with your employer. And during the return to work process, if you have an occupational health resource, they may be able to help too.

Are you on long-term sickness leave from work? Make sure to read your employer’s sickness absence policy. It helps you understand the guidelines your employer is working to, the why they do what they do. Being informed can prevent… tell a friend

 

2. Know about reasonable adjustments

 

Reasonable adjustments are changes your employer can make to ensure there aren’t barriers to you returning to work and fulfilling your role. I often find that people do not know what reasonable adjustments are. They are often mentioned in tandem with having a disability so be sure to read about the Equality Act which I cover next.

Knowing about them helps you determine what adjustments you need, which you can then share with your employer, i.e. help them to help you. I have come across instances where the employer asks the individual what changes they need, the employee hasn’t even thought about it nor knew this would be a good thing to think about. If the employer doesn’t educate the employee on what reasonable adjustments are, it leaves the employee in the position to take the lead in a way on sorting their needs out. But that is hard to do when you don’t know what you don’t know.

There are three types of reasonable adjustments:

  • The way things are done. These are processes, procedures, a practice, rule or decision.
  • A physical feature. This may involve changing, removing or adapting a physical feature of the workplace so it is not a barrier for you. For example, if you now use a wheelchair, your employer will need to review if you can safely get into and out of the building during normal times and an emergency. Doorways may need to be wider and/or automatic doors installed.
  • Provision of aids and services so you can do your job. This may be a desk that can be a standing or seated desk if you cannot sit for long periods of time. Or you may require an induction loop if you have a hearing aid. Or you may use dictation software if you can no longer type. Or you may require information in alternative formats (Braille or audio) so you can take it in.

 

Pic of a line manager explaining what reasonable adjustments are to an employee

Learning about reasonable adjustments will help you identify the adjustments you need.

 

Your employer will make adjustments which are reasonable for it to do. Several things are taken into account to determine what is ‘reasonable’:

  • How your illness or injury affects you
  • What is practical for the company to do
  • Resources available to make the change
  • Cost of the change
  • Size of the company
  • Have the changes been made already
  • Would the adjustment alleviate the barrier you face (and others like you)

It is not your job to pay for the reasonable adjustments yourself. ACAS gives a good description with examples of reasonable adjustments here.

ACAS is the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service which provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law. I find it to be a very useful resource.

Have a good think about what reasonable adjustments you may need in the shorter term during your gradual return to work and possibly over the longer-term. Here is one real life example of a client who had a heart attack at a younger than expected age and works in a large corporate in The City (of London) in a demanding and senior role. (I have their permission to use this example.)

This client returned to full-time work gradually over a period of 10 months. There were regular meetings between the employee returning to work, their line manager, HR and occupational health to gauge the employee’s needs and what was a feasible next step.

As part of returning to work full-time, the client requested to work from home two days per week given a side-effect of the medication they are now on for life is tiredness and they find the commute very tiring. Working from home on two non-consecutive days helps them to maintain their energy levels to work full-time. This is an example of a long-term change which falls into the change in practice category.

It is important to consider what reasonable adjustments you may need your employer to make when returning to work after a #seriousillness #seriousinjury or onset of a #chronicillness #returntowork Read more about them here tell a friend

 

3. Know about the Equality Act

 

The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) covers disability discrimination and as disability can result from serious illness, chronic illness or a serious injury, it is good to be aware of it in case you have a disability. You can read about the Act on the ACAS website here.

If how you have been impacted by your illness or injury means you have a disability, then you are protected under the Act from being discriminated against at work for having it. As I am not a lawyer, I am not going to give you advice. Instead, I will signpost to where you can read more information.

An important aspect of the Act is the definition of disability, which is a protected characteristic:

  • “a physical or mental impairment, that
  • has a substantial (that is, more than minor or trivial) and
  • long-term adverse effect, on
  • the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.” (CIPD, 2018)

The Act does not specify what normal day-to-day activities might be. But ACAS gives some guidance here. You can read the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s guidance on matters in relation to the definition of disability here.

Some conditions are automatically covered under the Act from point of diagnosis including cancer, multiple sclerosis and HIV/AIDS. You can read the guidance ACAS gives about that here.

 

4. Know about Access to Work

 

Access to Work is a UK government scheme that provides help not offered by your employer to help you stay in work.

According to the Access to Work website, an Access to Work grant can pay for:

  • special equipment, adaptations or support worker services to help you do things like answer the phone or go to meetings
  • help getting to and from work

The website outlines the eligibility requirements, what you get, how the scheme works and how to apply. What your employer may be able to do may meet your needs so you may find you don’t need to apply to this scheme. Or you may find that you do not meet the eligibility criteria.

 

5. Keep notes of conversations you have with your employer

 

Keep a record of conversations you have with your employer about returning to work – date of conversation, time, who was present, and a factual recording of who said what, decisions made and reasons for them, and follow-up action people have agreed to take. Having a written record can clarify what was decided and questions people have further down the line if that is ever needed.

It is also useful just in case the relationship with your employer breaks down for whatever reason or something not-very-nice happens. In the majority of cases, nothing bad will happen. And in that case, the record can show how far you have come in your return to work journey.

Pic of someone who has returned to work after a serious illness explaining the 5 things which helped him.

Doing these 5 things will help you be informed and plan your return to work.

 

Come back in two weeks where I will talk about what you can do to prepare your body and mind to return to work after a serious illness.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

If you are soon returning to work after a serious illness or injury, have you come across these recommendations before? What other questions do you have about returning to work? And if you have returned to work already, what would you add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you are living with a serious health issue, which may be a serious illness or injury or chronic illness, or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to return to or remain in work, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I wrote this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

 

Uncovering the unconscious biases that can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

Uncovering the unconscious biases that can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

This post focuses on uncovering the unconscious biases which can interfere with an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue. It s the fifth and final post in this 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 am sharing 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. The previous posts are here, here, here and here.

As part of supporting employees returning to work after a serious health issue, one of the topics I’ve written about has been how not to say the wrong thing. I’m continuing this theme but from the perspective of how the biases and assumptions we hold around health, illness and disability can impact how we treat people.

My starting point is to look at some of these most common assumptions we hold as a society. These are the messages we are surrounded by every day, which we absorb and can sometimes impact what we believe, assume, think, feel, do and say.

The aim is to deepen our awareness so we can make mindful choices regarding what we say and do when supporting a colleague returning to work after a serious health issue. Last week I shared two prevalent biases.

  1. Having had a serious illness or acquired a disability means you can no longer work
  2. For an illness/symptom to be valid, it must be visible.

This week, I’m sharing three more and offering an exercise to uncover the unconscious biases around health, illness and disability you may hold.

 

illness biases

Illness biases in our society. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

As you read each bias, consider what could be the result if someone acted on them when supporting an employee returning to work after a serious health issue.

 

Unconscious Bias 3 – When you are ill, you must look ill. You cannot look or feel well.

 

This bias relates to the invisibility bias mentioned above and says, ‘You must be sneezing, blowing your nose, have a limb in a cast, stay in bed, be in a wheelchair, whatever. You can’t laugh or smile if you are depressed. You must give me a visible sign that you are really are ill. Only then will I believe you.’

Many illnesses, symptoms, and conditions are invisible like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), Transverse Myelitis, and Multiple Sclerosis to name a few. And these conditions can fluctuate. There may be periods when the symptoms are very bad, and then they reduce or even disappear for a time. You can have a long-term condition punctuated by periods of wellness. And when you are in a bad patch, you can still look well.

Consider what it is like for the employee who has an invisible illness or disability who sees their employees roll their eyes when they leave work early because of symptoms, or the manager who asks more questions than of others who have been off sick.

 

Unconscious Bias 4 – You look well so you must have recovered or be recovering.

 

This bias says, ‘But if you are still ill, despite looking well, you must not be working hard enough at your recovery.’ Ach, that puts a ton of responsibility on a person and assumes a level of control that may not be possible.\

At work and elsewhere, this can lead to people giving the employee the quizzical look and possibly even saying something to others that the person looks well but is ‘supposed to be sick’. It can also lead to receiving a lot of advice regarding what you can do to recover.

When it comes to our bodies, we can directly control our breath, muscles and mind. We can influence other things, for example weight and body mass index through our diet and exercise. But there’s a lot going on in our bodies that we don’t see and cannot control.

 

Unconscious Bias 5 – Mental health issues aren’t real; people who have that are ‘soft’

 

The following example in the sport of cricket reminded me of this assumption. Jonathan Trott left England’s Ashes tour in 2014 because of a stress-related illness and took a leave of absence to focus on his health. ‘Michael Vaughan asserted that “both he and the public have been been ‘conned’ by Trott…”’ (Moss, 2014).

I don’t need to explain that further. The impact of being on the receiving end of that can be crushing. Having people say this about you can come across as if you do not know your own body and so are unable to evaluate your own experience.

Stigma around mental health issues unfortunately still exists in the workplace. Although there are initiatives encouraging Human Resources professionals to share their personal stories with mental health issues, ‘less than 10% of employees feel comfortable disclosing mental health problems…yet 78% of employers believe their staff are comfortable having mental health discussions at work’ (Gyton, 2017). There is an obvious disconnect.

What is it about mental health at work that isn’t working?

 

Perhaps it comes down to what Dr. Miller, policy advisor at the CIPD, said ‘A crucial missing link is often found in the relationship between line managers and their employees.’ An important link to this is the training line managers receive to manage and support staff with mental health problems. Dr. Miller said 22% of employers are investing in such training (Gyton, 2017).

There is the saying that people leave line mangers and not jobs. That line manager and employee relationship is so important. If you are a line manager supporting an employee with mental health or another health issue, one of the things you can do is develop your awareness of the assumptions you hold around health, illness and disability so you can make mindful choices going forward. Keep reading to find out how.

stigma of mental health at work

The stigma of mental health at work. Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

IMPORTANT TANGENT – MIND offers a course called Mental Health First Aid, which trains you in the signs of various mental health issues and appropriate ways of dealing with them. It’s very informative and helpful and I recommend it. Click here to learn more.

 

How to ensure you don’t act on unconscious biases when supporting colleagues returning to work

 

These 6 questions will help uncover unconscious and biases you may hold around health, illness and disability. This will enable you to make mindful choices on how you support an employee returning to work after a serious health issue. You can also book a session with me and we can do this together. Sometimes having an objective person listen can give you new insights.

The questions ask you to reflect on what it is like for you when you, and those around you, are ill, disabled, and in good health. The questions are repetitive, but it is important to consider them in the different situations to uncover any unconscious biases. Take the holistic approach used here and consider what you think, feel and actually do. You don’t have to do this all in one go. It may be helpful to write your responses.

 

Uncovering the unconscious biases – The 6 questions

 

1. When you are ill and/or disabled

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? Do you continue going into work, work from home, or stay in bed? Something else?

What is it like for the people around you? Your family, friends, colleagues, clients? How do they respond to you when you are ill? How do you respond in turn?

2. When you are in good health

What is that like for you? Again, what do you think, feel and do?

What is it like for the people around you? How do they treat you? How do you treat them?

3. When a family member, friend or colleague is ill and/or disabled

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? Do you look after/deal with them the same way you look after yourself when you are ill? Or differently?

4. When a family member, friend, colleague, client is in good health

What is that like for you? What do you think, feel and do? How do you treat them?

5. For each of the above questions, review your responses. Ask yourself,

What must be true about me (and others) for me to think, feel and act the way I do?

What do I have to believe?

What am I assuming of myself and my capabilities? What am I assuming of others?

6. Read through your beliefs and assumptions because they point to the biases you may hold.

The biases can be helpful or unhelpful and that may depend on the situation. Consider a real life situation (your own or another person’s situation) and how the biases can lead to action on your part which is helpful or not to the situation. With these new realisations, you can choose to do something different when that is appropriate.

 

unconscious biases

Uncovering your unconscious biases? Drawn by B Babcock 2017.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

What biases around health, illness and disability have you come across at work or elsewhere? Which ones did you find unhelpful or helpful? Feel free to share here and ensure examples cannot identify companies or individuals.

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

 

Pass it forward

 

Although these blogs are written in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a colleague, friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Moss, B., It takes strength to recognise your own mental ill-health, People Management, CIPD, 25-Mar-2014, Available http://www.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2014/03/25/it-takes-strength-to-recognise-your-own-mental-ill-health.aspx?utm_medium=email&utm_source=cipd&utm_campaign=pmdaily&utm_content=250314_comment_1

Gyton, G., Less than 10 per cent of employees feel comfortable disclosing mental health problems, People Management, CIPD, 20-Feb-2017, Available http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2017/02/20/less-than-10-per-cent-of-employees-feel-comfortable-disclosing-mental-health-problems.aspx

 

Unconscious biases can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

Unconscious biases can hinder an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue

This post focuses on the unconscious biases which can interfere with an employee’s return to work after a serious health issue. This is the fourth post in a series for line managers who are supporting such employees, and are wondering how they can best do that. 

Rather than focus on HR policies and employment law, what I am sharing 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. The earlier posts are here, here and here

As part of supporting an employee returning to work after a serious health issue, one of the topics I’ve written about has been how not to say the wrong thing. I’m continuing this theme but from the perspective of how unconscious biases and assumptions we hold around health, illness and disability can impact how we treat people.

My starting point is to look at some of the most common unconscious biases we hold as a society. These messages surround us and can sometimes impact what we believe, think and say. The aim is to deepen our awareness to enable us to make mindful choices about what we say and do when supporting a colleague returning to work after a serious health issue.

This week I am sharing two prevalent biases. In two weeks, I’ll share three more and offer questions you can ask yourself to uncover the unconscious biases around health, illness and disability you may hold.

 

avoiding acting on unconscious biases

Don’t think I will put my foot in it today.

 

Unconscious Bias 1 – Having had a serious illness or acquired a disability means you can no longer work

 

Consider a man in his mid 40’s who works in a large organisation in a senior position and the organisation’s culture has a reputation for being demanding and stressful. He looks in good physical shape but unexpectedly has a serious heart attack.

Or a person has a car accident and is paralysed as a result.

A common assumption I’ve come across in this instance is the person needs to change their life completely including giving up work. This reminds me of the statistic that ‘42% of disabled people seeking work found the biggest barrier were misconceptions about what they can do’ (ACAS, 2016).

That is a key point. What do we assume of people’s abilities after they have experienced a serious health issue?

 

unconscious biases about disability in the workplace

Picture obtained from ACAS Twitter feed @acasorguk (14-Mar-2017). Myth statistics come from the report ‘Disability Discrimination: Key points for the Workplace’ published September 2016.

 

Although significant changes to one’s life may be needed, returning to work can be possible. With many health issues, people’s physical capabilities are affected temporarily (sometimes for several years) or permanently, but their cognitive capabilities are not. With other health issues, a person’s cognitive capabilities are impacted, but they can employ strategies to manage them so they can continue to work.

The return to work may take time. I’ve seen a gradual return take a year. Adaptations may be needed to physically change the workplace so it is accessible, to alter how things are done (adjusting hours, working from home, adjusting existing role, moving to a new role), or equipment may be needed to help the person do their job (e.g. voice to text software, standing desk).

There can also be assumptions related to specific illnesses, for example heart attacks which happen at an age you don’t expect it to.

  • Young people don’t get heart attacks. – They do. Strokes too. Many illnesses do not practice age discrimination.
  • The stress of the job caused the heart attack. – Not always. It might be a contributing factor, particularly if it has led to unhealthy eating and drinking habits and little or no exercise. The person’s medical history, family history, and any current medical issues which may have gone undiagnosed could also be contributing factors. But sometimes illnesses can unexpectedly happen and there is no known cause.

 

Unconscious Bias 2 – For an illness/symptom to be valid, it must be visible

 

This is a pervasive bias in our society. The impact of illnesses like Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.), Transverse Myelitis, and Multiple Sclerosis for some people can be invisible. Sometimes you may hear people say, ‘Well, s/he looks well,’ in a quizzical tone of voice and look in the eye. I’ve had many people tell me the response to saying they have chronic fatigue is, ‘You never look tired,’ or ‘We are all fatigued.’

Imagine here that over and over again. You start to feel as if you have to prove that yes, you will do have a health issue. It can over time lead to a deterioration in working relationships.

As I wrote previously, one reason for unpleasant responses could be people experience anxiety (sometimes unknowingly) over not knowing how to respond. When you can see something, like a person on crutches, you have some ideas on how to respond, you open the door for them.

When you cannot see something, you can feel less clear on what is real or not, what is happening and what you could do in response. Many people like to know and feel certain because it gives them a sense of control, it is reassuring.

Educating colleagues so they understand the impact of the condition and that the person can look well on the outside, but inside feel very unwell, and how they can support the person and each other can help. This can enable the team to continue focusing on what they can all do and performing as a team rather than only focusing on what one person cannot do.

However, some people will not want to disclose information about their health issue and how they are affected. There can be many reasons for this, some which are a desire for privacy, to be seen as normal and just like everyone else, not wanting to respond to questions which may be felt to be too personal, not wanting to talk about it because it makes the health issue that much more real, or the person is tired of talking about it. Whatever is said, it must be agreed with the employee. And as the line manager, you can still promote the two-way street of support among all team members.

 

Team work sharing the workload

The ideal – supporting each other. Drawn by B Babcock 2017

 

This invisibility bias points to related assumptions in our society. But I will address them in two weeks. In the meantime, consider what can happen if someone acted on these assumptions when supporting an employee returning to work after a serious health issue.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Have you seen these two unconscious biases in action in the workplace? Or others? What was the result? Feel free to share here. Just make sure examples cannot 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 transition, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I write these blogs in the context of living with the impact of a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think a colleague, friend or family member would benefit from reading it, or you just want to share it with the world, share this post using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

References

Disability discrimination: Key points for the workplace, ACAS, September 2016 (Downloaded 14 March 2017 from www.acas.org.uk)

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