Photo by STIL
As a woman in business, the message I’ve heard loud and clear is Climb, Baby, Climb! We need more women in leadership, more female CEOs and more female founders!
Hearing these inspirational exhortations fired me up to work my tail off in my early- and mid-twenties. I was determined to create a big impact on the world by founding a company as so many of my peers in San Francisco were doing.
The pressure to start a successful company resulted in severe mental health symptoms. My therapist told me it was time to take my foot off the gas pedal at work for a little while.
I loved my therapist and had been seeing her for years. Yet we had never been able to productively discuss my job. She could see that my obsession with success was hurting me. I was invested in maintaining the status quo, no matter what the cost. Until, of course, the cost became too high.
She finally had my attention. I began to consider the notion of dialing down my career ambitions – at least for a period of time. I realized that prioritizing my job ahead of my physical and mental wellbeing was actually sabotaging my long term career advancement – and my health.
When I am sick, stressed and overworked, my impact suffers. When I feel energized, healthy and calm, I can show up better in every arena of my life. My sense of wellbeing became my new barometer of success, freeing me up to reconsider the role of work in my life.
For those of us with chronic health conditions, it’s not realistic to believe that we can prioritize career advancement all of the time.
There are seasons where we need to prioritize our health, or families or our lives outside of work. Sometimes we need to clock in and out of work with just enough effort to collect our paycheck. At certain points, we may not be able to work at all.
I have experimented with a number of strategies for maintaining steady performance at work while also prioritizing my health and wellbeing above all. These stretches of time have helped me to get the diagnoses and treatment that I needed to heal from many years of neglecting my health. Here are four approaches that have worked for me:
1. Lean back
The most straightforward way to reduce your workload is simply to open your eyes to the possibility. Which responsibilities might a more junior employee be happy to pick up? What parts of your role could possibly be dropped? Are there slow times of year when you could work 1-2 fewer hours per day? Who else might be able to pick up the next big project?
Deciding to simply limit the number of hours you work each day can be a forcing factor for prioritizing the most important tasks on your to do list.
This mentality is also a great way to tap into the power of delegation and promoting others within the workplace, both of which are highly regarded leadership capabilities.
2. Arrange for a reduced workload
There may be a point in your recovery where it makes sense to formally reduce your responsibilities with your employer, if only for only a period of time. Check with your HR department to see if your company or organization has a policy for accommodating employees with medical needs.
You may choose to disclose to your manager that you need to modify your responsibilities for a while to address some health concerns. Unless you are extraordinarily close with her or him, remember that you don’t need to offer too many details.
3. Take a leave of absence
Many companies and organizations offer medical leave or short-term disability leave. You can typically apply for a leave of absence with support from a doctor. If accepted, you will receive at least a portion of your paycheck through an insurance company or the government. This is a great option if you are not able to work, or are not able to heal while you work.
4. Take a break from the workforce
After exhausting these other avenues. you may find that quitting your current job will best support your healing. Google “mini-retirement” and “geographic arbitrage” to learn more about how to increase the affordability of a break from work.
You can also explore your eligibility for long-term disability leave. Use the time off to consider other paths of earning income that are more suited to your body’s needs. If you’re currently receiving health benefits through you employer, make sure to consider how you’ll have coverage if you quit.
How do you manage your workload on top of your illness? Have you ever taken a break from work to focus on your health?