Dealing With A Long Term Illness in the Workplace

Dealing With A Long Term Illness in the Workplace

We all have off days and sick days and sometimes we can be off from work for a number of days. But what happens if we have a more serious, long term illness? How do we deal with the extra sick days needed from work and our professional relationships with our managers and colleagues?

First steps are clear, we need to talk to HR and our managers to make sure all the work and work time we are missing is covered.  But what about colleagues on the periphery, the people you work with, but not closely enough to share sensitive personal information with? What do you say to them, what if you don’t feel comfortable with revealing too much?

This can be a very sensitive topic for many, but one worth thinking about incase the situation ever rises for you or a fellow work colleague in the workplace. Last month the BBC covered this issue on their Capital newspage, here are our highlights of what we took from that article:

No need to overshare

It would be naive to think that your absences won’t be noticed by your colleagues. But it’s important to do what feels comfortable to you; don’t feel the need to delve into your health issues if you don’t want to. Dr Lorraine Tilbury, founder of personal and professional development firm HorsePower International, advises to say, ‘I have a health issue that requires some close medical surveillance; thus there will be times when I’ll be less available than I was in the past. My appointments are made sufficiently in advance for me to alert you to when I will be less/not available’.”

Alternatively if you feel ready to share in order to clear the air and make sure everybody is aware of what is going on, it may be easier and more comfortable for you to reveal more. Some people will likely ask you or your boss more questions about your situation. It is human nature to want to help. Depending on the severity of your health issue, and what you are comfortable with, there may be some ideas you can provide to your manager.

Be Prepared

You and your managers will work out a system for when you are away on sick leave. Whether that is working out of the office or having someone cover for you. It is also a good idea to have back-up plan in place in case you suddenly need to take leave. That way, you can also say: “When I’m not available and there’s an urgent matter that needs my attention, you can rely on [this person] while I’m away,” suggests Tilbury.

Counteract any resentment early

If a colleague is having health issues, people rarely respond negatively, said Dr Tilbury. However a problem may arise if a colleague who is having to put extra work feels resentment. It doesn’t always happen but it is important to have an idea of how to handle it if it does. When you feel ready, plan a one-to-one conversation with anyone who picked up the slack while you were absent – or invite them to lunch, suggested Tilbury. “Say, ‘I realise that it must have been tough for you to handle all that while I was away. How did you manage?’ and then actively listen to their feedback, showing appreciation for all that they did,” she suggested. “Then say, ‘Is there anything I can do to [return the favour/provide some support to you in return/show my appreciation?”


However you deal with this situation it is worth considering your options and thinking things through. You’ll no doubt have a lot on your plate, but dealing with these issues at the beginning means you won’t have to deal with them further down the line, and hopefully you’ll have better support from your colleagues and therefore a better peace of mind.

What advice do you have for dealing with a long term illness in the workplace? Tweet us your thoughts @kennedypearce

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