January 4, 2010

Sharing II's in the Workplace

I want to pose a train of thought and question to, well, anyone who reads this and is willing to share!

Ok so, I realize many II sufferers find themselves needing to drop to part-time work schedules, or even from the workforce altogether (or, as Julia mentioned in her blog seen here, become self-employed in the business of personal health promotion and care - that is, focused on improving their own health which is unto itself a real job).  If you are a person in this "unemployed" stage, I'm going to need you to think back to your 'working' days and/or consider what you'd do now with any gained knowledge you didn't have then.  If you are still in the workforce (full or part-time), feel free to chip in with what you did, wish you did, or plan to do.  And finally, if you are employed in an HR position and have professional insight, bring it on!

Personally, as you probably know by now, I finally graduated college in May, and in October began a fulltime position in auditing.  I knew I was getting into an active, stressful, fast-paced situation...and I anticipated running into some contradictions between this stress & schedule and my medical limitations.  (I just wanted you to know I'm not naive, haha.)  I didn't, however, anticipate that I'd be travelling 1/3 of the time (not far, a state away, but it's still out-of-town, staying in a hotel, packing and unpacking, and so on).  And, while I may have anticipated some issues that doesn't mean I know what to do about them as I run into them.  (For example, one site I sometimes go to is about 6-7 city blocks from the closest subway station which is nothing to my coworkers but too far for me in the winter doing overtime and lugging a computer and personal belongings.  Do I drive in and park, incurring high parking fees?  What if the firm doesn't agree to reimburse them?  And so on.)  Additionally, each client I work on comes with a different team of coworkers to cope with.  Some of them are great, most are pretty good, and a few are ... not.

Now, my firm is concerned with not just disability legislation, but also being disability friendly.  And I do believe they mean well.  But as is usually the case, they have plans in place for working with obvious, outward physical disabilities.  I'm not in a wheel chair, I don't use braces or a cane.  I have all my limbs as well as senses of sight and hearing.  Uh-oh, what do they do with me?!

I have been fairly open with the firm as a whole about my conditions...but take on the issue of telling each team of coworkers as its own case.  I usually have to tell all of them something...why I have to park close, or if we use my car to go to lunch and I have my handicapped tag down, or if I get crazy dizzy.  Sometimes I get into WHY these things happen, what my conditions are, and the like.  In fact, I prefer to explain a little more because it boosts understanding (the U in UII, afterall), and also lends credence to my claim ('I need a drink at my desk because half salivary glands don't work from Sjogrens' is received much better than 'I have a medical condition').  And now that we've covered the plan my pragmatic side developed, we reach the real-world application glitches.

The way I see it, I (as all II sufferers do) face these questions and more:
  • Do I insist on limitations and accomodations from the very beginning or try to push myself up front and then ask for accomodations only when I find myself needing them?  If I don't ask at first, I might not be taken seriously later or look like I'm trying to shirk my load.  If I put all my limitations on the table up front, I might look like I can't (or won't) do the job and there are plenty of 'legal' ways to get rid of me that don't mention disabilities.  Not to mention that it contradicts my "do what you can, while you can" motto from this earlier post.
  • Do I share my situation with everyone on the team, just the higher-ups, or just the people I work with most closely?
  • Don't I need to tell at least one person on the team, ESPECIALLY when travelling out of town, in case something happens to me?
  • Can I handle the possible reactions I could face?  After spending so much time primarily with people who generally understood and accepted my situation, I am sometimes shocked when I encounter a 'non-believer'.  And HOW should I handle these situations?  Do I confront the person with facts or is it more "professional" to keep my feelings to myself?  Let's face it, if gossip starts getting around that some people have trouble working with me in a group I'm doomed.
  • Do I say anything about travelling so much?  If so, to whom?  What do I want to propose as a solution (it's usually wise to have a proposed solution in mind if you're going to point out a problem)?  Around here, this can be complicated by the corporate culture, which very favorably views a willingness to be exceedingly flexible and while I'm willing, I'm just not that capable.
  • And naturally, the long term questions such as how long do I stay with the firm, what compromises am I willing to make for career advancement or can I content myself with falling 'behind' my peers on the corporate ladder but doing it in good health, and so on.
Right now, the travelling thing has been the issue wearing on me the most, though in a few days the example of driving and parking instead of taking public transportation will jump to the front.  In a number of weeks, I'll be returning to a situation where I'll be out of town for an extended time, working long hours, and dealing with some of the least receptive coworkers I've encountered so far...I have NO idea how I'll deal with that one.

I've looked into the firm's disabilities network (one of their "diversity networks"), and am drafting a message to the local contact.  I'm hoping they've encountered someone similar to me before and might have some protocols or ideas I didn't know about.  If not, I'll be back to these questions...do I continue to pursue accomodations?  And just what accomodations do I think would work out?  Oh bother...

So now that I've taken you on this little choo-choo train ride through my anxiety-ridden thoughts, I turn it all over to you.  What are your thoughts, reactions, stories, advice, or feelings?  I could really use some support and reminders that I'm not the first, last, or only one going through this.  Thanks in advance!

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    I've come to your blog by way of Julia's. My name is Annie, and I also suffer with sjogren's, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. I have had to quit my job as of 2000 when I was going through so many health issues, but no one could (doctors) figure out what I had.Some actually told me they saw nothing wrong, meanwhile I could barely walk, talk, or function because of pain, headaches, stomach problems etc. I am a little older than you (53), and I applaud your guts in trying to work. Many people with autoimmune diseases do work, but at some point they have to quit because it gets to be too much, and you can't keep up the level of strength and stamina it takes to function at work. Don't forget that once you get home, another job awaits you...even if you have some help.

    On the question of who to tell...it's no one's business about your health. I would maybe tell a superior about your health problems and maybe a very close co-worker whom you could trust not to blab to everyone else. Let's face it, we are as discriminated against as someone in a wheelchair, if not more so, because we look "so normal, and not sick", and everyone still expects you to do your job and keep up to date in your work with no excuses.

    Good luck, you have a very interesting blog, I will stop by more often. Keep well.


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