Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Donna was recently diagnosed with a chronic condition. While her physician reassured her that she should be able to function effectively in her job, as she always has, she is going to need to follow a fairly strict regimen going forward to keep herself as healthy as possible. This includes taking medication at specific times during the day, eating on a regular schedule, and resting if she becomes overly tired.
Donna describes her boss, Manny, as “running a tight ship.” While he is willing to listen and can be flexible at times, he is also under a lot of pressure to maintain a high level of productivity in his department. Because of this, Donna is concerned that her new regimen is not only going to add to Manny’s pressure, but will also cause him to question whether she is the best person for the job.
Having the talk
Because of her concerns, Donna is hesitant to talk to Manny about her situation. She’s holding back on bringing this up with him while she decides what she should say.
Ever been in Donna’s position? Here’s how to have this conversation:
Keep it positive, starting with your attitude. View this as an opportunity for you and your boss to collaborate on meeting the goals of your job and your department. Assume the best, not the worst. This will have a big impact on how you come across.
Clarify your commitment to your job. This can help to get the conversation off to a positive start. Say something like, “I really like being here. It’s a good place to work. I’ve been here since ___ and I want to continue to grow with the organization.”
Review your strengths. Focus on the skills and qualities you bring to the job, especially those that are required in your job description. “I know it’s important to be skilled at _____ in my job, and I have worked hard to demonstrate that I have those skills. I have also made an effort to show you that I . . . (remind your boss of qualities like being on time and staying late to get the job done). You might also cite any awards or honors you have received.
Briefly describe your diagnosis and prognosis. Give your boss just enough to have a basic understanding of your condition. If you have a diagnosis that might sound scary in any way, be sure your boss knows enough about your specific situation to help avoid an overreaction, as much as possible.
Describe your regimen. Your boss doesn’t need to know the ins and outs of your daily regimen. But he or she does need to know whether it will impact your daily routine at work. If any aspects of your routine or how you do your job will be affected, provide your boss with needed details. Keep it as simple and as specific as possible.
Provide reassurance. Reaffirm that you are committed to getting the job done to the best of your abilities, as you always have. Also remind your boss of tasks you will continue to do, as you have in the past. If you have any ideas that can help the department or company to function well, you might bring them up in the conversation. This will help to allay any initial concerns that your boss may have.
Consider involving HR. If you have a human resources department at your organization, it is a good idea to keep them in the loop. HR may even be your starting point, especially if you will need any special accommodations. HR can help you to understand company policy regarding employees with chronic conditions. Know your rights!
Ask for your boss’s support. Let your boss know that you are counting on working closely together to make sure you support meeting the goals of your company or department, and ask for his or her support in return.
Discuss a plan for going forward. This might include any needed periodic progress reviews, any changes to how you will be evaluated, and/or how you will communicate about any issues that arise over time. HR may need to be involved here.
You, your boss, and your treatment regimen. As always, honesty is the best policy. Keep it positive. Keep it simple. Make sure your rights are protected. And take good care of yourself.
What has helped you to navigate workplace issues related to your chronic illness? Help others by sharing your advice in a comment below.