Illness in the work place – Why it’s so important to assist employees through health issues

You’ve heard about it, seen it and potentially dealt with it. An employee with significant health issues trying to carry on working while struggling with a serious illness. You’ve also no doubt seen the impact on your organization.


Some managers/supervisors are able to be empathetic while still being responsible to their organizations – these managers are generally the ones that have had more experience and or may have been through a serious illness themselves. I have found time and time again proper handling of these situations is something you cannot learn from a text book. You have to learn by experiencing it.


It’s a fine line for a manager to walk: trying to balance goals and expectations with reduced coverage due to sick leave.


You may be familiar with this: “I need somebody who can be here, someone I can count on…”? I’ve heard this from many different supervisors, not from just one industry or demographic, this viewpoint seems to be universal. I like to remind managers that they should treat employees: “As they would like to be treated; with respect and dignity”. It’s not the manager’s fault that the employee is sick but they need to know how to handle it in the best way possible.


So how do we assist inexperienced managers?


Steps every supervisor should consider/discuss with their employee:

·               Ensure that the employee is receiving the assistance they need. Usually the health issue is dealt with by the provincial health care system but the psychological aspects may have not been addressed. Recommend the employee utilize all available resources such as: EAP, non-profit support groups, community groups etc.

·               Verify company policy with respect to sick time/disability and ensure that the employee fully understands what is covered and more importantly what is not covered

·               Sick time maybe needed sporadically after initial treatments and for multiple doctors visits – both supervisor and employee need to plan how to deal with these

·               Establish a protocol for additional sick time needed (e.g. sick note after x number of days)

·               Explore whether working reduced hours or working from home maybe an option to make the most of the best productive hours in the day for the person

·               Determine how much information will be discussed with other employees in the department

·               Establish guidelines on communication between employee and supervisor – e.g. updates weekly initially and monthly thereafter – situations can become unmanageable very quickly without good communication


Ok, so what’s the reward to spending time and effort assisting employees?


Planning – the more communication that happens the easier it is to plan

·               While the employee productivity may decrease during modified duty periods – some work is better than none – and the employee is better able to return to regular duties as they are not out of the loop completely

·               Retention and loyalty of the employee – employees who are treated well are more likely to stay with an employer – no retraining costs

·               Employee recognition – shows other employees how you treat illnesses

·               Employer recognition – bragging rights – my company looked after me

·               Ethics – employers have a certain responsibility under Human Rights legislation to accommodate

·               Good “karma” – it just makes you feel good to know that you did the best you could for an employee in a difficult position


So to recap, I have found that communication is the most critical key and that empathy breeds loyalty.

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