Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Book Offers Advice on Navigating Your Career & Health

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Today I'm hosting a stop on the Virtual Book Tour for a great new book, Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend by Rosalind Joffe and Joan Friedlander.

This fantastic book takes readers through the entire range of issues related to continuing one's working life as a woman who lives with a chronic illness. From a thoughtful analysis of reasons to try to keep working even when it's difficult to descriptions of the challenges one is likely to face in the workplace and how to meet them, this compact little book offers tons of relevant and useful advice.

I recently had the opportunity to ask a few questions of one of the book's authors, Rosalind Joffe. Here's what she had to say:

Who did you write this book for and what do you hope she will get out of it?

Based on our personal experiences (my co-author, Joan Friedlander, and I) and the stories I was hearing from clients, we believed that working women with chronic illness between ages 30-45 faced a distinct challenge. When we wrote the book, we actually created a specific character that we kept in mind as we wrote and wrote to her. She is in her mid 30’s, a professional, a mother, living with autoimmune disease with mild and periodic disabilities and is very worried that she might not be able to work in the future. We saw that there were multiple forces that seem to discourage her from working. We wanted to create a book that would raise enough issues to encourage her to push through the hard times of working, raising a family and living with illness to counterbalance the opposition she faced.

How should what you tell your peers at work differ from what you tell your superiors about your health situation?

I don’t think that you would necessarily have a different message for your supervisor or your peers. I can imagine a situation in which a person only tells her supervisor because she needs the supervisor’s support to do something differently and she doesn’t tell her colleagues because it doesn’t impact them. But if she only discloses to her supervisor and is treated differently and others notice this, this could cause resentment if they don’t know why this is so.

I worked with a client who didn’t tell her supervisor because she feared that she would be marginalized or even lose her job. But she told a few peers who helped her do her job when she needed the assistance. This worked because it wasn’t often a problem. I always use the maxim that you should only disclose if you need to disclose (your symptoms are getting in the way of performance) and decide how much and what to say based on what people need to know so you can do your job.

Are there specific requests your clients make for accommodations at work that seem to be more successful than others? What advice can you share about how to approach such requests based upon these observations?

That’s a great question. I discuss this in detail in Chapter 5, Success in the Workplace and Chapter 6, Talking About Your Chronic Illness. In my experience, what you say and when you say it can have a strong influence on your ability to get what you need.

First, don’t wait until you’re performance has suffered for long because people will have lost their investment and faith in you.

Second, when you request an accommodation, keep the information simple, stick to the facts and keep it unemotional.

Third, offer your ideas for how this might happen, rather than just saying that you can’t do the job and expecting your supervisor to come up with a solution.

Finally, make sure that you plan this rather than waiting until you’ve made mistakes or missed deadlines and you’re in a defensive position.

How do you know when you're asking too much of your employer or co-workers?

Obviously, you never know for sure. It is always better to reserve your requests for when they’re essential so that you don’t create resentment. But that is really a fine balance and many factors go into it. Most of us dislike being in the position of asking for help and it’s easy to feel that you’ve asked too much already. Unfortunately, living with chronic illness often means that we can’t give in to those feelings because we simply cannot do everything we once could. It can take a lot of your mental will power not to imagine that everyone resents you. If you’re really in doubt, find someone whom you trust at work who will tell you the truth.

What coping advice can you give career-oriented women like myself who have been defined by their work, but whose health issues have forced them to take a break from the workforce?

This is a big question with a lot of meat to it. I suggest practice developing a long view of your life. When you can see your career and your contributions over the length of your lifetime rather than just looking at today you have a different perspective and less anxiety about what isn’t happening in the moment. I also encourage you to develop your flexibility and resilience. They are two difficult competencies to master but they are key ingredients to living with chronic illness – and being successful at work. You can read more about my ideas on this in Chapter 9, Developing Your Warrior Spirit.

You can purchase Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease at Amazon.com:

Women, Work and Autoimmune Disease: Keep Working Girlfriend

You can read more of Rosalind & Joan's work at their blog, Keep Working Girlfriend: Women, Work and Chronic Illness.

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