As much as we wish there was a way around it, the fact is that the majority of us will have to work hard throughout our lives in order to earn a living. But what happens when something such as serious illness or disability intrudes on our once happy and healthy lives, making it much harder to go about our day-to-day jobs?
How do we cope when it’s happening to us or someone we love? Are we expected to just carry on as if nothing’s happening, whilst dealing with the inevitable, such as invasive treatments or having to deal with loss or planning a funeral?
It’s not easy trying to juggle illness and a career; there are both physical and mental struggles, plus all the formalities that come with it. There is plenty of help and advice available online that we can access, including from our site Beyond.
Below are just a few ways that serious illness can impact your employment, as well as some tips on what you can do.
You can feel more vulnerable when it’s out in the open
It’s not uncommon for some people to hide their illness for as long as they possibly can, especially when trying to hold down a career. For many, it’s not just about keeping a job, but it’s also a coping mechanism; a way of keeping a routine and a bit of normality.
Some people find it easier to soldier on and ‘suffer in silence’, knowing that you aren’t being treated or labelled differently to anyone else. However, when you get to a point when you have to be open about your situation and word gets out, you might find that you suddenly feel more vulnerable at work than you have done before.
You can lose focus and energy
As important as work is, your health and wellbeing are, and always should be, your top priorities. Illness can be exhausting, for your body and for your mind. You might want work to serve as a distraction, but truth be told you’ll probably find that your mind keeps wandering, worrying, over-thinking, and you start to lose focus on the job in hand. Plus, if your illness requires lots of treatments and medication or keeps you up at night too, you’ll start to lack the energy and passion that you once had for your role.
Your role at work might need to change
Depending on how your illness presents itself and progresses, if you’re still in a position to work, your role may have to change slightly. Your employer, team and immediate stakeholders will have to adapt to your situation and you might not be able to be as hands-on as you always have been.
If this is the case, speak to your line manager or HR as early as possible with any questions or concerns you may have and don’t force yourself to continue with a role that’s detrimental to your health. Be honest, and chances are there will be a way to work around things.
You might need to take a long period of time off work
If your illness means that, for a certain period of time, you’re no longer able to work, then you might have to go on long-term sick leave. This will require things such as a medical assessment or doctor’s note to effectively ‘prove’ that you’re not in a position to be able to come in and carry out your job.
In most situations, you should be entitled to occupational sick pay, although the length of time and amount of money you receive may vary from business to business. You’ll need to have discussions with your company’s HR department to determine exactly what you’re entitled to.
Your boss or employer might not be as supportive as you’d hoped
In most situations, you’re likely to get all the relevant help and support that you need during such a difficult time, with the majority of bosses accommodating your needs accordingly. But, unfortunately, it’s not always the case for everyone.
Some managers may only have their eyes on the profit and performance of their business and not on the health and wellbeing of their employees. This can often lead to discrimination, such as being penalised for taking time out for hospital appointments, not being given certain tasks because they think you’re not up to the job or even having a pay cut. If you feel like this is happening to you, refer to the Equality Act 2010 and make yourself aware of your rights.
If you become ill while still employed, you have a number of rights and responsibilities. Bear each of the above points in mind and speak to the right people and it will make the whole situation a lot easier to deal with.
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