Living and coping with a long term sickness can dramatically change your life. It can present you with many challenges such as not being able to do the things you once took for granted, which can then cause anxiety. It is probably not something you will get used to overnight; it may take some time to adjust. Plus, if you’re anything like me (impatient!) you could also become frustrated and after a period of time, it’s not uncommon for depression to set in. None of these feelings are easy to deal with but remember, it’s not an easy situation for those around you either.
These emotions are completely natural and normal but whatever the actual severity of your illness you must not be afraid to seek support from those around you. Both physically and emotionally, you have to learn to accept the illness in order to deal with it. You must also learn to relax as this is vital for your health and well-being and it’s a great healer for the body. On top of this, it will help you to feel less anxious. Some popular methods used for relaxation are hypnosis, massage and meditation or even just reading a good book can help.
Fear of losing your job
One of the common anxieties caused by having a long term sickness is not being able to work and then having the added worry of losing your job and/or not being able to cope financially.
This blog post looks at a few ways to help you in this situation. But firstly, do you have private health/medical insurance and/or insurance for being out of work? If your answer is no, it is something I would advise you to look in to before the inevitable happens. And lets face it, you never think it will be you but it could happen unexpectedly at any time! It is also imperative that you speak to your line-manager as soon as you have been diagnosed and told how long you are likely to be out of action. Be honest about it, provide evidence from your doctor and make sure you stay in regular contact to update them with your progress. These are essential factors in making sure that they have an understanding of your illness and what you are going through. You never know, they may even be able to offer advice or be able to help you.
Stay in regular touch with people at work
Staying in regular contact will also keep you up-to-date with any news in the work place, which will help make you feel less isolated whilst not there. Keep in regular contact with your colleagues and their news as well – this will also help prevent them feeling resentful towards you, which is not uncommon if they are carrying your workload. Make sure you have the company’s policy on long term sickness absence so you are clear on the procedure and arrangements for sick pay. If you don’t have a copy already, request one. Don’t be taken by surprise if your employer requests home visits if you are on long-term sick leave; it’s not an unreasonable or unusual request and it does help with all of the above problems.
Have a read of this helpful article if you’re worried about being off work because of illness: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg397.pdf
Assess your situation
Before returning to work, you should reassess your situation; you may be better suited do a different type of work now, whether in the interim or long-term. Things to consider: if a short term change is needed, your employer will have to consider how long they can keep your job open for. And if you decide on a long-term change, they will have to assess whether it is feasible within the business.
HSE have also published the following leaflet: ‘Working together to prevent sickness becoming a job loss’
Returning to work…
On returning to work, your line manager should hold a ‘Return to work’ interview with you. This should bring you up-to-date on any news, make sure you are fit and well enough to be back at work and discuss ways to ease your return to work. At this meeting you should identify the cause of your illness and think about whether your job contributed to the illness or was in fact the cause of it.
As mentioned above, you may need to discuss different types of work that may be available or you may want to work shortened/flexi-hours or even work from home if it’s feasible. These are all possible options you may need to consider to aid with your recovery and/or deter your illness returning.
Remember, employers can dismiss you on the grounds of long term sickness but before doing so they must be able to show they have given due consideration to any of the above requests. If you think you have been a victim of unfair dismissal, contact ACAS and they will be able to advise you accordingly. They have also published this leaflet on long-term sickness.