In such situations a culture of silence creates uncertainty, which leads to a deterioration in morale.
In fact, many people feel that a burden has been lifted when taking colleagues into their confidence.
‘I have just been diagnosed with Type I diabetes,’ says Vanessa*, 37, ‘and I’m finding it really hard to manage my blood sugar levels.
I feel rotten but I’m terrified to tell anyone at work, because I’m part of a competitive sales team.
Add to that the seven million with musculoskeletal diseases such as arthritis, and the 4.2 million with ongoing mental health issues, and the scale of the problem becomes clear.‘Studies show that if people stay at work either part time or in a phased return after a period of rehabilitation, it greatly aids their recovery,’ says Stephen Bevan, managing director of the Work Foundation, a nonprofit organisation that carries out research into the future of working practices.
‘The problem is that GPs aren’t tuned in to occupational medicine and the psychological benefits of being at work, and will advise people who may be struggling to come to terms with their diagnoses to leave their jobs.
I always make it clear that I will put in extra hours to catch up.’ Jane has found advice from Migraine Action very useful: ‘You should make your colleagues aware that you take full responsibility for your condition and that you are not looking for any favours in terms of less work or responsibility, just support in terms of temporary cover when you have an attack.’Despite its prevalence in the workplace – one in four of us will suffer from it during our lives – mental illness remains the most taboo of all conditions.
According to the Department for Work and Pensions, 5.9 million workers in Britain currently have long-standing health conditions, and a study by Bupa has estimated that by the year 2030 the number of British workers with chronic conditions such as diabetes will rise above four million.
‘I consider myself lucky second time round, but I think that with any illness it’s a personal decision whether to tell your boss.’Under the Equality Act 2010, workers with a wide range of conditions have legal protection.
But the letter of the law and the spirit prevailing in the workplace can be at odds with each other.
When I called in sick because I couldn’t make it out of my front door, I was met with irritation rather than concern.‘When colleagues had had babies I’d covered their maternity leave without a second thought, but that attitude wasn’t reciprocated.
They had compassion fatigue and I felt obliged to leave because I couldn’t continue under those conditions.
‘I also knew that I would need chemotherapy and my hair would fall out, which would have made it impossible to hide the truth.