(Names and details have been changed to protect the privacy of my clients.)
Sue recently had a particularly bad flare with Crohn’s disease. For the first time, she couldn’t get to work reliably. After a few weeks of struggling to get to the office, she told her boss about her health problems and asked to switch to a virtual schedule that allowed her to work from home. Luckily, she had a job that she could do “virtually”. Her boss sent out an email to the office saying that Sue was unwell and would be back in the office full time when she was better.
Within a few months, the “flare” calmed down and Sue returned to her regular office schedule. Her work output had stayed the same and her lack of physical presence didn’t seem to have made any difference in team performance. She didn’t think there would be a problem going back to her old schedule.
But when she returned to the office full time, she felt cut off from her team, like an ‘outcast’. Making things worse, Sue was often preoccupied with worry that she’d get sick again and have to return to working from home. She felt stuck and even a little paranoid. For the first time in her career, she felt unmotivated and resentful at work.
She sought out her closest friend on the team, Dave, to talk about it. Dave told her that even before she went “virtual”, she’d been tense and withdrawn for weeks. Sometimes she made mistakes but didn’t acknowledge it. When she stopped showing up, people on the team seemed relieved that she wasn’t around. But it didn’t help that she hadn’t explained to anyone what was going on or why she was working from home.
Furthermore,although they knew she was sick, they resented her. She was getting the “special treatment” by working at home but she was still being difficult with them. When she returned, she hadn’t bothered to explain what had happened. And the worst part is that she seems unaware that she acting differently.
Sue was relieved that she wasn’t imagining the bad feelings. But she was angry and hurt because she didn’t think she should have to explain herself to anyone. She felt her health was a private matter and they should understand that.
I asked her how this behavior was working for her. That’s when she realized that although this had not been a problem for her before, she now faced a situation in which her tendency to keep things to herself is getting in her way.