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

 

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)

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

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

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 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, and can enhance employee engagement and loyalty. You can read the first post here.

 A member of your team has been on long-term sick leave due to a serious health issue and wants to return to work. You want that too but based on discussions with them, HR and/or occupational health, you have concerns, feel it might be too early and are wondering what to do. Should the employee return now or wait a bit?

There are no straight forward easy answers here as every person, line manager employee relationship, organisation, illness and its recovery process are different. My aim is to explain what not to do in this situation, the reasons people often want to return to work (sometimes early), and what you can do.

 

return to work after illness

The desire to return to work. B Babcock 2017.

 

Don’t assume you can sort an employee’s return to work by 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 but 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 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, at least 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 such a charity exists).

 

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 lends us a sense of safety and normality. After a serious illness/injury, returning to a sense of normality is what people 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.

So that keenness could be your employee’s desire to feel like they are getting better, to return to a normality, and restore their 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 neither are guarantees.

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. Balancing the pros and cons for all parties involved, there may never be the ‘best’ time either.

WHAT TO DO: Ask yourselves when is it a ‘good enough’ time for the employee to return. Offer confidential 1-1 support via a third party such as a coach or your Employee Assistance Programme to help your employee create coping strategies for now and into the future.

 

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 given 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 between all parties is critical to the employee’s successful 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 is what I am thinking, aiming to achieve, saying to people assuming of the employee? What does it assume of this process we are working through? What am I assuming of myself?’ This self-observation can help you catch assumptions which may not help you and your employee achieve your 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 transition back into work after a serious health issue, share them here. Just remember confidentiality and ensure examples cannot identify companies or individuals.

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

 

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 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

Helping your employee return to work after a serious health issue – What not to do (Part 1)

Helping your employee return to work after a serious health issue – What not to do (Part 1)





This is the first 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 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.

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.

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

A line manager’s concerns. B Babcock 2017

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How to turn big dreams into reality with a changed body

How to turn big dreams into reality with a changed body

After living with a long-term condition, serious illness or injury for a period of time, have you ever taken a decision that feels momentous to you in some way? Maybe you committed to doing something physically challenging. Or you just redid your CV and completed a job application in an effort to return to work or volunteer. Or you set yourself a rehabilitation goal to walk to the post box up the road from your house to get you out of your house and moving.

You feel excitement at the possibility of implementing your decision along with the very real scepticism of your body’s capability. Will your body be able to do what you want to do? Will you push your body too far?

I know that feeling all too well. Because I did something earlier this week I consider daft and brilliant in equal measure. So read on to find out what I did, and the 10 things I’ve used successfully in the past and will use again to make a big dream become a reality.

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I dreamed a big dream. B Babcock 2016

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