40 years of silence? Why? She didn’t have to worry about losing her job or a demotion. Did she think it would hurt sales? She’s quoted saying she didn’t talk about it because she’s a “private” person. But she’s been in the “public eye” for decades. Why did illness have to be private?
I think there’s a problem with the fact that people don’t talk about their illness and work in the same breath, do you?
I know the fear that this will negatively affect how others perceive them. But as Phyl’s husband, Bernie, said, people were noticing that she wasn’t the same – and making incorrect assumptions about her. When illness becomes debilitating, it’s noticeable.
The reality is that the overwhelming majority of people with chronic illness do not disclose their illness at work. Which means that supervisors and co-workers are unprepared about what to do when it comes up.
I’m not talking about complaining to anyone who will listen that you’re sluggish or have some pain. But there’s the point when you’re having trouble doing the work and your performance is suffering. There are some who can’t understand what chronic illness – unpredictable, waxing and waning, and often invisible – means. You might get negative responses or a subtle (even not so subtle) put down.
You have to be strategic talking about illness when others are depending on your deliverables. It also takes confidence and clarity. You can get some tips in my blog post and more strategies in my booklet, Talking About It.
The fact is that more than 40% of American workers lives with at least one chronic illness. But talk with human resource professionals about this issue and they typically say it’s not a problem for them. Of course, not. No one talks to HR about this – at least not until they file for disability.
Many come to me when they’ve hit serious roadblocks after disclosing their disease at work. But when we dig deep, disclosure isn’t the root problem. Sometimes they can no longer do that job — or in that place. Sometimes they need to make adjustments. You can find assessments in the Working With Chronic Illness Workbook .
I don’ t have an answer for this but it’s clear that saying nothing until you have to leave work altogether isn’t it. It’s not easy to let people know how hard your day is when you look fine. Or more importantly, why you can’t meet that deadline or make that meeting. But unless you do, they’ll have no idea what your problem is or what might help you. And you have no chance for improving the situation – - until you leave on disability. What do you think? What have you done about this and how did it go?