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Monday, July 2, 2012

Dealing with ill health at work

Every so often, we all have to deal with situations when our colleagues at work fall ill. In some of these situations, we have to live with the effects of the ill health as some are long term while in other cases, it is a one off condition that gets treated and has the staff get back to normal work processes. Dealing with ill health situations at work can be a stressor and if not well managed, can lead to reduced performance and strained relationships at work.

Consider the experiences of Monica. When she was diagnosed of cancer late last year, it appeared to her as a dream. She had always heard of persons being diagnosed with the illness and had never, just like the majority of us, imagined herself having to bear the effects of cancer. By the time the diagnosis was arrived at, she had hopped from one hospital to another in search of the best treatment for the unending pain around her chest. With the diagnosis confirmed, she informed her line manager who requested her to also discuss the situation with the HR department.

The most important news that Monica got from her employer was that the company insurance cover would take care of her treatment and therefore needed not to worry about the financial implications of the condition. This was a real boost to her commitment to the employer as she felt appreciated and cared for. However as she started off with her treatment, it was realized that she had to be redeployed from her current duty station to ease the process of accessing the health centre. This meant swopping positions with another staff. This was not easy. Since she was working from a far flung town, none of the staff at the head office in the capital was willing to swap places with her. The management of the company had to almost force a certain staff to relocate.

Ill health among the staff team can be a real source of organizational headache yet since people will once in a while break down (just like machines also do), every workplace needs to be ready to deal with this situation when it arises. It is as sure as the sun rising tomorrow that a staff will at some point fall ill. In addition to the strains caused by the need to redeploy ill staff, the workplace also experience a sudden slump in performance. Ill health slows every one down as the persons take time off to seek medical attention. This affects team performance since each person has a role within the system.

It is also clear that in most cases when staff fall ill, their tasks are in the short term redistributed among the rest of the team and this leads an overload within the team. If this is not well appreciated, it leads to discontent and could easily break the team.

Since staff will at some point in their work-life get sick, it is important for the organization to develop responsive policies aimed at providing adequate support to the ill staff. Such policies relate to provision of medical services at the employers’ expense or through an agreed upon cost sharing mechanism. The employer must be seen to be concerned about the health of the staff and not project themselves as only interested in the staff when they are in good health.

Since ill health has a way of taking strength and time away from the workplace, it is key for the teams to be prepared on how to best reallocate tasks among them whenever one of the team mates is taken ill. You don’t want to work in an environment where your colleagues grumble and murmur whenever you fall ill since they have to bear the burden of your tasks. Staff should consider being helpers since we all will go through the cycles of life at our own times.

Finally, it has been noticed that some staff take advantage of their ill health to abscond work or operate below average. Taking advantage of ill health is an immoral practice and since others would easily note when the colleague is taking them for a ride, it is likely that there would be a revolt to the detriment of your career growth plan.

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