Living with chronic illnesses for 30 years has taught me how critical work can be to health and well being. That's why I am committed to giving people who live with chronic illness the tools they need to be employed.
But what can you expect at work where the goal is to produce products or deliver a service? No doubt, positive relationships make work go more smoothly. But we have to remember that no matter what we might wish for, relationships aren't the endgame in the workplace. At best they're a tool for effectiveness and worst, they're a by-product.
I thought about this when I was speaking with my client, Ann (not her name). Ann, who lives with Lupus, is a graphic designer. She worked on a team in which, although everyone worked independently, all the parts contributed to the whole on a consistently very tight schedule. If one person slipped, the ship went down.
Ann's unpredictable and debilitating symptoms meant that the tight deadlines became a disaster. A few weeks ago, she asked to be 'demoted' to a job with less responsibilities and reduced pay. Which is why she's in the job hunt.
Ann had created a "needs" assessment for her next job (using my Working With Chronic Illness Workbook). In our conversation, she told me that she wanted a supportive environment, where people care about her and how she's doing. Heading up her "Needs" list was "support".
But when I asked her to describe what support at work means to her, she said, "People who respond positively when I say that I'm unable to meet a tight deadline alone but with some help, could get there. People who pitch in and help if I'm stuck. "
She was surprised when I commented that her description didn't mention illness. Nor did she talk about anything emotional. I said that it sounds as if she's looking for a team approach, rather than a gotcha' response. Again, she was surprised.
As we talked, Ann realized a few things.
First, she has to be clear with language. What does support at work mean to her? Do you know what kind of support you need?
Second, Ann would love it if people would empathize when she doesn't feel well, rather than behave as if she's just a problem for them -- or worse, that she's making it up. But she finds that's hard to predict. Are there things you say or do that seem to work for you?
Finally, she has to be in a job that she can do. If you're lucky and you're good at communicating, people can be terrifically empathic. But if you can't do the job, you're going to be history. If Ann needs flex scheduling and/or team support some or all of the time, then she needs a job where that's the nature of the job.
Can you be successful in the job that you're in or does it require support that's simply not there?