Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about an ill director with memory loss:
Hi, my department director is a lovely woman with growing physical and mental health issues. She is on a lot of medication. Also, she is experiencing memory loss. Recently she forgot about an initiative with senior management that we had taken together a few months ago. So, when the results emerged she never told me and I only found out at a meeting where they were discussed as if I had never been involved.We talked about that one later and she acknowledged that I would have logically found that to be a weird situation. I have asked her how I can support her but she doesn’t give me much to work with. I find myself feeling resentful which is not me, and not the way I like to be at work.I am finding mentors in the organization outside of my department, but I depend on her to advance the agenda of the work our department does as she is the one who meets with senior management, etc. An increase in hours requested for my position remains in limbo – for four weeks she reported she would know by the end of the week. I think she might forget she keeps saying it to me.How does one respond to that kind of thing? At the end of the month my hours will be reduced, along with my pay, unless a budget allocation approval is provided or a reconfiguration of the contract is processed in HR. I
am driven and committed to my work. Eager to take initiatives, be creative, and go above and beyond. I seek to have mutually supportive work place relationships. Overall, I have many wonderful colleagues and enjoy good working conditions in a large, bureaucratic organization. If you have any suggestions, guidance, ideas… I’d appreciate it very much.
Signed, Worried and Frustrated
Dear Worried and Frustrated:
This certainly IS a reason to be concerned–for many reasons. You seem to be developing support within the organization, so I hope you will use that network and your strength of character, to deal with this effectively for everyone involved.First, just look at the basic situation, not even involving you. If your director is on medication and is forgetful–or is purposeful in her actions but able to cover for that fact–she is also at risk personally. If medication is causing these problems, it could be harming her in other ways or it might build up over time and be much worse. In addition, she should not be driving, nor should be caring for children in her family or dealing with money or high liability programs or issues. That may sound extreme, but consider how many tragedies have happened in which afterward people say, “I thought she was acting strange.” “She had been on medication.” She hadn’t been herself lately.” “I was worried about her but didn’t know what to do.”
Apparently this has been going on for at least four weeks–which means it won’t be over with in the next few days or a week or two, and might get worse.Even if you don’t think a terribly negative thing could happen (and there is always away-from-work to consider as well), think about the negative results you’re already dealing with. You may have your pay cut and worse, just because she isn’t reliable at this time. That doesn’t mean she’ll never be reliable again, but she clearly isn’t now.What about the overall well-being of the programs that are important to both her and you? What if deadlines are missed or conversations are misunderstood? Both could lead to problems that perhaps could be prevented if action is taken to assist her.Intervention BEFORE harm is always better than intervention to mitigate the harm. And, you have no reason to think she will dramatically improve anytime soon. As difficult as it sounds right now, you are the one who can start to make things better. It will take courage, but you seem to have that.Please consider some of the following as it relates just to that issue:
1. Talk to HR and express your concerns. Provide examples and be clear that your goal is for her to be well and happy.You may think that the best thing is to talk to her directly, but I have seen that have unpleasant results–and not be dependable for a solution anyway, for the very reasons that caused the concern in the first place.Perhaps one of your other mentors would have a better resource for alerting people about the concern–or would have the standing to insist that the director be checked and monitored until everyone is sure this time has passed.If you feel you must talk to her personally, appeal to her good instincts and your good relationship up until now. Instead of asking her if you can support her, tell her that you are concerned enough that you want to know that she is being supported by every resource available in your organization. But be strong about the fact that things can’t continue this way. 2. Regarding your pay and similar issues: Write a letter to her and ask her for permission to forward it to HR. Or, go to HR about this matter as well. It may be she genuinely doesn’t know yet about your pay, but she may have known and forgotten, have forgotten to ask, or purposely didn’t ask. I find it hard to believe that a large organization would have let things lapse to the point you describe–so it sounds as though something was missed somewhere.It sounds as though you love your work and want to have a career there. I can imagine how difficult this is for you. But really, when you think about it, it seems as though you will not be able to stay there if you DON’T do something, because your hours will be cut to the point that you will have to look for a more stable situation.
What would you advise someone else to do, if they came to you for help about a similar situation? I don’t think you’d tell them to wait and hope their director improves in a few days–you’d have to accept that it might be months or longer before things would improve. And while that is going on, who knows what might be happening? Use that same logic and compassion to take action about this situation too. If the director is as good a person as you say, she will understand–and may very well have reason to be grateful if you are able to help her get back to where she was before.Best wishes! If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Lewis Rowe