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To talk or not to talk? What a question.

Posted Feb 22 2011 2:06pm

Sue (my client, name and details changed) was having a bad time in a crohn’s disease “flare”.  For the first time, she couldn’t get to work reliably.  Luckily,  she had a job that could be done “virtually” and company policy allowed this.   After a a few weeks of struggling to get to the office, she told her boss about her health problems and switched to working at home 4 out of 5 days each week.  Her boss sent out an email saying she wasn’t feeling well and would be back in the office when she was better.

After a few months,  the “flare” calmed down  and Sue returned to her regular office schedule.  She wasn’t worried.  Her work output had stayed the same and her lack of physical presence hadn’t made any  difference in team performance.

But the people on her team had changed dramatically.  Back in the office, she felt cut off and isolated from everyone.  She’d never felt like an ‘outcast’ before and now she felt stuck and even paranoid.

Instead of feeling relieved to be back in the office, Sue was increasingly worried that she’d get sick  and need to work at home again.   For the first time in her career, she felt unmotivated and resentful at work.

She sought out her closest friend on the team, Dave, to see if she could learn what was really going on.

Dave told her.  He said that before she went “virtual”,  she’d been tense and withdrawn for weeks, sometimes making mistakes but never acknowledging it. Then one day she stopped showing up, without an explanation from her.  Dave said that when she came into the office each week, she seemed preoccupied and even a little angry.   They knew she was sick but they resented her.  She was getting the “special treatment” by working at home but she was still being difficult with them.  When she finally returned,  people were angry that she hadn’t bothered to explain what had happened.  And she didn’t seem to notice that she had been acting differently.

Sue felt relieved to know all this.  But she was deeply angry and hurt because she didn’t think she should have to explain herself.  She felt her health was a private matter and they should understand that.

What do you think?

(For my thoughts on talking about illness, check out my Career Thrive Guidebook series ).

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