I love Tina Turner’s What’s love got to do with it? Everything!
You’d think this would be easy. She knows what she needs to be able to do her job. It won’t cost her employer a dime, impact anyone’s productivity or compromise her performance. Sounds like getting this should be a ‘no-brainer’, right?
A medical coder, she sits at a computer 8 hours a day and gets a 1 hour lunch break and 2 fifteen minute breaks during the day. Almost 55 years old, she’s been laid off twice in the past 10 years — for reasons having nothing to do with her performance. She’s always gotten stellar performance reviews.
But losing two jobs has made her terrified in a way that she never was before. She’s afraid of being unemployed again and gets panic attacks if she thinks her current job is in jeopardy! It’s understandable and it’s hurting her.
She lives with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and significant hip pain. She’s learned that she needs a desk chair with very good back support and 5 minute breaks every hour to stand and stretch, take a short walk or a quick bathroom visit. This helps keep the pain manageable and her hip mobile.
The first problem started when her chair was replaced with a ‘new chair’ that was in worse shape than the one she’d been using. It took a week to screw up her courage to ask her supervisor if she could bring in her own chair because the ones they’re supplying don’t offer proper support. He replied, “I can’t allow it. If I say yes to you, other people will start asking for special favors.” She didn’t have the courage to explain that this isn’t a favor, it’s a medical need.
Then, in her next quarterly meeting, her supervisor told her that another team member had mentioned that she takes more breaks than allowed. The co worker wondered if she’s taking her job seriously enough. Her supervisor told her to take two, 15 minute breaks, like everyone else.
She didn’t respond that she’s taking 5 minute breaks totaling the allowed 30 minutes per day. Or that she’s one of the top performers in the group. Or that these breaks keep her hip from going into spasm which could lead to needing another hip replacement which would mean a prolonged absence from work. She said nothing because the panic attack had closed her throat!
No one at this job knows she’s lived with RA for 20 years and lives with significant pain. Although she’d disclosed this in her previous jobs (and it had never been a problem), her fear of losing this job left her feeling highly vulnerable. She’s convinced that if she discloses, they’d demote her to less important work or worse, she’ll lose her job. When her sister in law told her that she should threaten to cite the ADA and even sue if she doesn’t get what she needs, it terrified her even more.
She couldn’t see any options other than to take the breaks the way everyone does and stay in the lumpy chair.
Her supervisor’s response to her request to bring in her own chair was tone deaf — at best. And the complaint about her breaks seem unfair. But fear is clouding her judgement about what’s happened, why people are responding as they are and what she could reasonably do about this. Since she hasn’t told anyone about her health, they’re making assumptions about her based on what they see. They can’t see that her hip doesn’t work properly or the pain. They see that she’s not behaving in the ‘norm’.
As we discussed this, it became clear to her that not talking about her health challenges isn’t working for her. If she follows the norm and performs the tasks as expected, pain will significantly interfere with her work and her worst fears are likely to materialize — she’ll be demoted or fired. A different approach would be to explain that she has chronic hip pain (and not mention a chronic disease that’s not relevant to this issue) that gets worse when she sits for too long in one position or sits in a chair without proper support. And, since she knows that the ‘work arounds’ she’s requesting (that term makes more sense than ‘accommodations’) are successful and don’t interfere with her productivity, this simple and clear explanation that focuses on function will go a long way. Her alternative is to keep working under these restrictions without explaining her position and the likely outcome is that pain will cause her to leave or be fired. This explanation could get her what she needs, a win.
She thought about her value to the group, that her supervisor had generally been reasonable and that she couldn’t keep working in the way that everyone else was doing. She decided to talk to her supervisor. We prepared carefully for the conversation, reviewing what to say, what not to say and how she would behave. For specific tips on this, check out my booklet, Are You Talking? in the Career Thrive Series.
She got the go ahead to bring in her own chair and to take the breaks as needed. No doubt, it could have gone another way. But she wouldn’t have known without trying.
Sometimes, we need to take a good look at our fears and how they can color the way we see things. When you live in fear, whether it’s losing a job or people knowing you have health problems, it clouds your perception and limits your options. Fear can become the motivating and the limiting factor. Just like love.
What are you doing to make sure you get what you need? How’s it going? I can help you with this!
FYI – I’m looking for a knowledgeable person to help me build my social media presence. Do you know someone who:
- Is in school or wants to get started in digital marketing,
- Cares and wants to learn more about the online chronic illness/pain world,
- Is willing to work in this capacity as an internship?
Then contact me! Rosalind@ciCoach.com