How Can I Handle My Long-Term Illness And Work?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about illness that causes lateness:

I have been in the company for several years and have so far got good appraisals about the job. One year ago I started feeling ill. I have been going to work late because I wake up ill. I call up the workplace each day informing them and I replace the hours on the same day or other days. I fill out a form where my boss signs his approval. I don’t want to take medical leave since I feel better after awhile and feel that I can work.

Once in a while I am at work and I feel ill and request to leave early. I replace the hours at other days. Sometimes I call in informing them that I will be late due to feeling unwell, but later discover I still feel unwell, so I have called to inform my boss that I will take medical leave after seeing a doctor. My boss has been allowing this for almost one year.

Recently my boss was transferred and now I report to my boss’s boss. He inquired about my illness details several times, even asking my subordinates about it. I feel really uncomfortable about this.He also makes a big fuss about signing the forms where I come in late due to feeling unwell or leave early, even though I replace the hours.

He says that besides informing him I have to inform all my other colleagues, including my subordinates. He reprimanded me in front of several of my colleagues and within listening distance of my subordinates when I did not do this, even though I didn’t know of his new rule since I had always followed my old boss’s method.He also insists I get a doctor’s letter about my need to be late and exactly what time I will be in the office, and says he will forward that to HR.

I feel quite humiliated and distrusted. Who likes to be sick? I also think that while informing my immediate boss is fine, I shouldn’t have to be treated like a problem employee and inform everyone that I am sick, that I will be late or that I need to leave early due to illness. I also think that being reprimanded in front of others made me look like a bad worker, although in the recent appraisal my ex boss gave me a good appraisal.

By the way, it is suspected that my illness is caused by stress, since no doctor could find anything physically wrong with me yet the symptoms of chest pain, difficulty breathing, aches over the whole body and nausea still persist.Due to the new boss’s stand, I feel pushed to resign as I feel distrusted. Now, more stress has caused me to be unable to perform. Do you think I should quit?

Signed, Feeling Forced To Leave My Job

DearĀ Feeling Forced To Leave My Job:

I’m very sorry about how you’ve been feeling. I agree that no one wants to be sick or in pain. It is especially frustrating to feel that way when it seems there is no easily identified cause, which means there is no easy or clear path to a cure.You know your financial situation best when it comes to whether or not you can quit your job, even if you want to do so. But, I’d be dishonest with you if I didn’t tell you my perception, based on your letter: I think you are well on the way to being fired if your situation doesn’t change dramatically. So, if you want to keep your job and need to stay employed, you must find ways to bring about that change and let your boss and HR know that you want to stay and you want to fulfill work requirements about shift hours.Your former manager was probably wrong to allow you to create your own changing work schedule as he did, even for a good employee and for a humanitarian reason. He apparently did so without the full approval of his boss (your current boss).

It’s not fair to others to do that–unless everyone has that same freedom and are using it routinely. If you can show that many others are coming in when they want and leaving when they say they need to, on a regular basis, then you’ll have an argument to make. I don’t think that is the case.You can imagine what would happen if every employee decided to do like you and say they simply didn’t feel like coming to work on time and would be in “later.” There is no way to prove or disprove the truth of their illness, but it could cripple a business. So, I’m sure your former boss is not being thought very well of right now!

Your current boss talked to subordinates and to coworkers, which was a fair approach to take. It’s the only way he can know the effect of your lateness and absence. Even if they feel badly about your illness, you know they must wonder how long such accommodations can continue.You wrote to us because everything is building to the point where a decision must be made, either by your employer or by you or by both of you. Obviously you want to see a bright future, not the unhappy past or the frightening and frustrating present. So, let’s discuss what you can do right now to start making things better.

It seems to me that you are approaching this from a perspective that focuses on how you can continue to come to work late when needed and go home early when needed, rather than how you can get back to your correct working situation. Don’t make it your goal to have your employer accommodate your illness. Make it your goal to manage even your discomfort, nausea, pain and weak feelings in a way that allows you to keep working on schedule, in spite of all of those.That sounds almost impossible now, I’m sure. But, that should be your stated goal. You’ll not only feel more positive working toward that, you will be much more likely to engage the support of your boss.It also seems that you are leaving it up to your boss (whether the former one or the current one) to decide what to do about your situation. I think you should take control of it and decide how you can go back to being the kind of employee you were before the illness started (or at least, as close to that as possible.)

Consider these things:
1. Make HR your friend in this case and let them know you WANT to be at work on time, working your full hours and leaving at the time you are assigned to leave and that it is your intention to be not only a high quality employee as you have been but an employee who is dependable about work hours.Write a letter, so there will be documentation of your contact and your commitment to being a dependable employee. In your letter outline what you are going to do to ensure that you manage your illness as well as possible. I’ll give you some thoughts about that in a moment.You don’t need to take the approach that you’ve done anything wrong in the past. I think you should say that you appreciate your former manager’s willingness to work with you because it was desperately needed. But, say that all along you’ve had the goal of getting back to where you were and you just need to have some support at work to help make that happen.

2. Come to work with a new determination for your boss to observe. He may be used to you seeming to be hopeless about your prognosis. Show him that you genuinely hope for full recovery and are working towards that.The hard fact is that if you keep the thought that your boss should learn to work around your illness, you and he will always be in conflict and you may lose your job. But, if your boss and HR knows your goal is to be there 8 hours a shift (or whatever your time-frame is), starting at the correct time and ending at the correct time, you will all be focused on the same thing. No conflict!

3. Develop a plan of action for work and wellness, not a plan for finding ways to stay home in response to being in pain, nauseated and sick feeling. It is a much more positive way to exist, even though right now it may seem impossible to achieve.*If your doctors can’t find an internal medical reason for your illness, there may be a mental, physical or emotional reason for it. You certainly have had an accommodating boss until now, so that kind of work stress seems to be unlikely as the cause. If there is something inherent in the work (chemicals, the kind of work, the location of the work, etc.) you may HAVE to quit to get away from it. But, if you worked there for several years before you began to be sick, it seems unlikely that is the case.So, the complexity of what could be causing the illness seems to require that you go outside the internal medical profession. Talk to any community resources available, find out about employee assistance programs, ask your doctor for a mental health or counseling referral. (Your insurance may cover it.) If you have a religious faith, speak to a pastor or other worship leader and ask for guidance and referrals. Talk to your best friend or a close family member who might have insights.*Whoever you consult with, keep as your goal that you want to get better and will do what it takes to make that happen. There are very few conditions, except those that are terminal, that completely resist all efforts for improvement or adjustment. Maybe you need to try at least one more physician to get one more opinion.Consider complementary medicine (sometimes called alternative medicine): Chiropractic, massage, acupuncture, nutritionists, etc. Don’t get caught up in weird food, activities or anything that costs a lot of money. But, within reason, consider anything that might open you to new thoughts and approaches. A good guideline is, if you can openly talk about it without feeling foolish, it’s probably at least acceptable. If you feel you have to keep it a secret, it might not be so acceptable or useful.*Be open to simple, do-it-yourself solutions. Often a long-term health issue is related to mental and physical habits. Sometimes something like postural changes, exercise changes, dietary changes, sleep changes and changes in routine (even changes in relationships) all could benefit people with chronic problems. Unfortunately many patients want to hear that their problem is outside of their control, because to think otherwise would indicate they didn’t have to be sick in the first place! I’m not saying your situation is of that nature, but it’s obviously not something that shows up in blood tests, x-rays or lab specimens. So, it’s probably not going to be treatable with antibiotics or other routine approaches.You don’t mention if you are married or have children at home. If you live with others, consider how this might be affecting them, and how improvement might be beneficial to them.*Begin by doing your own self-counseling. Keep a wellness journal. It might make you feel obsessive for awhile, but can be very helpful. Note everything in your life that you know to have an affect on pain, stomach issues, fatigue and overall well-being. See if there is something always present when you feel badly or if there is something always lacking when you feel badly. Note how long it takes for you to begin to feel good when you get up feeling badly. Keep track of the feelings and symptoms as well as when they go away and what seemed to help them subside.Note your temperature, blood pressure, weight, exercise times, food and drink intake, activities, even what you’ve read or watched on TV or on the computer. If you think it had an effect, write it down.At the end of a week, then two weeks, then two months, see if you’ve identified anything recurring.Another thing to note: Write down the reasons you have to feel good, in spite of how you DO feel physically. Pick when you have been the sickest and make that a 0. Compared to that, how do you feel? It can be heartening to see that you’re at least better than you’ve sometimes been!At the same time you are focusing on yourself, do just the opposite–get outside yourself and focus on others too. Obviously you’ve been involved with work, because you speak of being considered a good employee with someone who reports to you. See if you can renew your zeal for work, the way you felt when it was new. Tidy your desk, refresh your contact list, reach out and become even more valuable to others.*You may need to develop a completely different sleep and awakening schedule, to allow you plenty of time to get up, exercise, eat, move around and get over early morning bad feelings. If you often feel better a couple of hours after you get up, get up a couple of hours sooner and give yourself time to get to the better level.You may find you need to ask for a change in work if that is possible. You have a subordinate now. Perhaps you would do better if you were working on your own, without that responsibility. You may need to negotiate an adjustment period with your boss and ask him to support you as you give it your all to get your health back to normal. Let him know that you’re doing your best and that he will see improvement every week.

4. That last item, #3, had a lot of things for you to do. If you’re not feeling well, it may seem overwhelming. You don’t have to do it all right now or this week or this month. The idea is to be looking forward with hope and plans for work and being busy. MY hope is that some of this can be useful to you and that you can at least adapt some of it to your needs. I think you will have to do something different than you are now doing, if you want to keep your job and regain the confidence of your boss. So, all of these things have been written with that in mind.Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.