Mental Health Awareness Week is October 4-10, 2015. Each day of Mental Health Awareness Week, I will post a “STUCK” blog telling an anonymous story demonstrating a challenge faced by someone else. This person could be someone you love, it could be you or it could be me.
Everyday someone somewhere is struggling and feeling stuck.
If my blogs resonate with you, I’d love to hear your comments. Please share my stories and discuss. No one needs to suffer alone or in silence.
One morning I distressed received a call from one of my clients “I need your help to fire Laura.”
We agreed to meet for coffee so we could discuss it.
“I don’t want to fire her. I really like her. When she’s here, she’s really good at what she does. But that’s just it. She’s unpredictable. She seldom puts in a complete work week. She’s absent so often that she’s run out of sick leave. I can’t deal with the unpredictability. I need employees that are here every day eager to work.”
I asked if he had discussed the issue with Laura.
“Hell, no! I heard from others here that she has depression and something called agoraphobia. I don’t even know what that is but I certainly don’t want to push her over the edge by discussing it.”
“I see.” I said. “You don’t want to discuss it in case it “pushes her over the edge” but you’re prepared to fire her. Does that make sense to you?”
Adam agreed his argument didn’t hold any logic but on the other hand he knew his responsibilities as an employer. “I’m not allowed to ask people what their disability or illness is. It’s an infringement on her personal rights. That’s why I’m so stressed about this.”
I explained the fine line that exists with personal infringement. You cannot directly ask someone about their illness but you can ask if there are accommodations that they require or could benefit from that would help them be as productive as possible. People are often accommodated when they need special chairs or bigger computer screens, etc. In fact, employers are required by law to accommodate employees’ needs to the best of their ability. Unfortunately this law is forgotten when managing an employee with a mental illness.
Adam was skeptical but he agreed to have an open discussion with Laura about her absenteeism. He was shocked by the response.
Laura was forthcoming about her issues. She had been managing recurrent depression for many years and often had difficulty leaving the house. Sometime ago she had decided to herself that she was going to talk openly about it and hopefully help dispel the stigma. There were many days when the one hour drive to work from her country home seemed impossible and so she would give in, call in sick to work and sleep for the rest of the day. She felt horrible about herself and felt bad for letting Adam down. He was one of the best managers she’d ever had and she felt guilty for not being the loyal employee he needed.
Adam had no idea she had such a commute to work every day. “I’ll admit, my first response was to tell her to move closer to town. Bingo bango – no commute!” But he also knew he can’t tell his employees where to live.
“I know what you must be thinking” said Laura. “If I lived closer to town, the commute wouldn’t be an issue. But quite honestly, I am not sure it’s the distance that’s hard for me. I think it’s just getting my butt out the door that’s the issue. Plus I manage my parents’ farm for them. I can’t imagine living away from the animals. “
Then Laura said “I have an idea that might work for both of us”
Adam was happy to listen to Laura’s idea. He understood her situation and was touched that she had trusted him with her story. “Shoot! I’m all ears!”
“I know there are a couple of projects that have been on the back burner for a while. I’m not sure why they aren’t moving forward but I know these projects require a lot of research and writing. I’d like to take on those projects. I love the research part and I’m a stickler for detail in writing proposals and guidelines. I would like to help get these projects off the ground, if they are still a priority.”
Adam’s first reaction was “But she’s never here! I’d love Laura to take on these projects. She’s definitely the right person to do the work but she’s never here!”
Before he could finish his thought, Laura said “I could work on these projects from home”.
“I’ll admit”, said Adam. “I was skeptical of how this would work. How would I monitor her work? But we’ve worked it out. “
Laura now works 2 days a week from home on special research projects for the company’s long term goals. Each week, Adam and Laura meet to discuss her progress on the projects and provide direction.
“I’m so happy with the arrangement. These projects would have sat in the pile for a long time. But now they are moving along and Laura is doing a great job. She’s working 5 days a week, two from home and three in the office, which is working perfectly for both of us. Last week, I helped her feed her horses while we discussed the projects. I am so glad I didn’t fire Laura.”
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