Imagine you are happily going about your day job and all of a sudden you are struck down with a serious and potentially fatal illness. You are faced with having to take long periods of time off work and at times, not being able to function to your fullest when you are there.
Aside from the worry about your health, you may feel your position within the workplace has become insecure and your colleagues have no idea what to do or say.
On the other side is the employer. The workplace is running smoothly and morale is good. Then suddenly an employee or colleague is struck down with a serious illness. They are faced with the realisation that the employee will probably have to take a lot of time off and will not be able to function to their fullest. This will affect the businesses productivity and morale will probably decrease. What do they do?
People who are really sick feel vulnerable and guilty. A lot of the time, they are having to face issues to do with their own mortality. The vulnerability comes from a lack or complete loss of control. They feel they have no control over their illness and why they became sick. These feelings extend and permeate into almost all areas of their life and thinking.
Most people consider themselves competent and capable, and at times when you are none of those things, it is really intimidating. Guilt creeps in when you know you won’t be able to perform at work but still want to be able to contribute.
Here are some tips to help ease you through the tricky areas of a sick colleague or employee:
- By providing a sense of security in their job, the employee and their family have something less to worry about. This has a knock on effect within the workplace with other employees also getting that sense of security within their job. Often, this gesture lifts morale overall.
- Job security can be further reinforced when the sick employee is kept abreast of what is happening in the workplace. The power of a phone call to simply say, “Hi, we miss you” cannot be underestimated and goes a long way to lift the feeling of inclusion. Always find out their preferred means of communication though. A card is always a good idea. Make them regular if possible.
- Never just take over the sick employees tasks — ask for their permission (if you are able to do so). Nothing takes control away from someone quite like other people assuming what you can and cannot do. Lack of control is a huge issue for someone who is sick. Ask if there is a task that is concerning them and offer to lessen their stress by offering to at least help them out with it or do it for them. The simple act of making a decision or choice helps give a feeling of control back to anyone who is sick.
- Of course, work colleagues have to get over the initial shock of what has happened to their workmate and the awkwardness that comes with approaching their sick colleague. Often this awkwardness is so consuming that they opt not to say or do anything, even though they may want to help.
- When offering to help a sick colleague, outline specifically what you can do for them. Just saying, “Let me know what I can do to help” will more than likely be followed up with an “Ok” and no request for help is ever made — the awkwardness of asking for help will generally outweigh the actual need for help.
- Include the sick colleague in invitations for social occasions and events. By assuming they will not be up to coming shows a lack of empathy and only isolates the sick person. Inclusiveness is key.
- On the other side, an employee doesn’t have to put up with a bad mood or temper from their sick colleague. This is abusive behaviour and will need to be dealt with in the appropriate manner or by the employer and management.
Communication really is the key in this situation. Following some of these tips will help you maintain your connection with your colleague.
The Carousel would like to thank Alyx Stewart from Kee-moh Snacks for her article.
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