From the C-suite to the front lines, people are unsure how to help workers who’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness.
A diagnosis of a serious and/or chronic medical condition such as cancer can be devastating for working Americans. There are all kinds of family concerns, financial worries, and questions. Having a supportive employer can make a big difference. However, according to a new survey, many workers wish their employer offered more assistance and accommodations for colleagues facing serious medical problems.
A vast majority of survey respondents (89%) say that management could have done more to support employees diagnosed with a serious medical condition. They say that providing more workplace accommodations or creating more engagement and inclusion opportunities would be valuable.
At the same time, while employees think that management could do more, they also are unsure about their own ability to help their ill colleagues. In fact, 88% say they have concerns about their ability to support a coworker with a serious illness. Two-thirds (69%) say they are unsure about what kind of emotional support to offer; 59% say they don’t know how much to ask about their colleague’s illness; and 51% are uncertain about what kind of work-related help to offer. Those employees who have worked with someone who has been diagnosed with cancer have more concerns about being supportive than those who haven’t had this experience (90% versus 78%).
What can you do? If an employee or colleague is diagnosed with a serious illness, educate yourself about the disease. After that, your response will depend on how well you know the person. However, some basic dos and don’ts are helpful:
- Go beyond the usual, “Let me know if I can do anything.” Don’t leave it to the person to come up with a request that you may or may not be able to fulfill. Instead, offer something specific such as: running small errands, walking the person’s dog, helping with house cleaning, etc.
- Offer to reduce the work strain. Working with management, you can identify opportunities such as temporarily taking over a client/patient, substituting for the ill person on a business trip, covering for the person at specific meetings, or taking the lead on stressful projects.
- Consider a gift basket. What goes in it will depend on your relationship with the colleague. Think about what will make the person feel better or comforted and what items or services would be helpful.
- Offer to take over a routine task and/or help find useful resources (such as the name of a doctor, babysitter, or cleaning company).
- Offer to take a walk with your colleague or pursue other activities that put the focus back on “normal.”
Some don’ts include:
- Don’t just drop in on the person at home or in the hospital. Call or text ahead and get permission.
- Don’t visit the person if you are sick, even if it’s just a cold or 24-hour bug.
- Don’t deliver food without asking.
- Keep phone calls short.
Whether you’re a manager or a colleague, don’t be so afraid to do the wrong thing that you do nothing. The important thing is to reach out and offer support that is personalized and genuine.