Illness of a Co-worker

Many of us spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our family some days.  The illness of a co-worker has an impact on you, and your own serious illness can also impact the workplace.

BU departmental staff can prepare for emergencies in the office through classes in CPR and First Aid offered through FitRec. Offices can even be equipped with an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

When a co-worker has a serious illness, colleagues may notice:

Physical changes

  • Complaints of fatigue
  • Complaints of discomfort
  • Alterations in appearance (weight, skin color, posture)

Behavior changes

  • Depression, irritability, sadness, tears
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Anxiety or agitation
  • Change in priorities
  • Diminished effectiveness

The affected individual may need to take time off for medical appointments or may not be able to fulfill his or her duties.  A co-worker may acknowledge the illness and take time off, but might not disclose the nature or extent of his illness to his colleagues.  Colleagues may become concerned, not only about the well-being of their co-worker but also about the work that needs to be completed.  It may be challenging to express concerns regarding the co-worker’s health and that their work may be suffering.

What should you do when a colleague may have a serious illness?

  • Respect their privacy and take cues from your colleague
  • Be kind and compassionate
  • Don’t ask “How do you feel?” as your colleague may not wish to share that with you. It is better to ask if he/she wants to talk about how things are going. It is important to avoid being intrusive.
  • Don’t ask “What can I do?” Instead, generate some suggestions and offer to accomplish specific tasks.
  • Be a good listener.
  • Allow time for people to share their concerns.
  • Understand that work will be affected.

What should I do if I have a serious illness?

  • Prepare ahead by saving money for a crisis
  • Talk about the prognosis with your health care providers and your family
  • Decide what you want or need to disclose to your supervisors and colleagues
  • Consult with the Faculty Staff Assistance Office to decide how to handle work and disclosure.
  • Consult with Human Resources if an FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) is needed.
  • Anticipate the needs of the position and your co-workers
  • Give your colleagues cues about what is OK to discuss and what you prefer not to talk about
    • Discuss with your supervisor what accommodations, if any, you may need to perform your job.
  • Be prepared for co-workers to offer help. If you accept help, be specific about tasks. (Example: a ride to treatment, meal preparation). If you decline help, thank co-workers for their kindness.