When a physician recommends surgery, life can suddenly seem more complicated. Many people feel overwhelmed with a persistent mix of fear, anxiety, and exhaustion from chronic physical symptoms—all along with routine concerns. Very soon after receiving the news, it is common to focus on handling the surgery and your career.
Pre-pandemic, between 40 to 50 million surgeries occur each year in the United States. About 20 million occur in Europe. "It is important to consider that it is likely that you will experience a surgery in your lifetime—and so will your co-workers (if they haven't already)," says Executive Coach Beth Siegert, CPC, CPRC, ACC, CFAA. "So, this situation is not unusual, your many co-workers will be far more understanding than you may expect," she says.
Asking for Help is Necessary and Acceptable
"Many of my clients are incredibly high-performing professionals who are also very independent. Many are entrepreneurs who are used to handling a myriad of different and complex tasks each day. Major surgery such as a knee replacement or intestinal surgery is a detour where a lack of mobility requires logistical support. This change of direction from being in charge to needing a good deal of help can be a bit challenging," says Siegert.
"Planning and being open about concerns is key," Siegert continues. Planning helps with logistics. It is best to follow guidance from your surgeon and hospital. Important tips can also be found from a friend who has experienced such surgery (ask for a list of ideas in an email versus in a conversation) or online. Sometimes, collaborating with someone regarding logistical planning is a good idea to help avoid extra stress.
Being open about concerns alleviates anxiety about the procedure, the postoperative recovery period, and other issues at hand. "Once I spoke to a client who was too embarrassed to ask her surgical team about an item high on her list of anxieties: receiving oxygen during surgery. Once she obtained the information about how that happens, a major part of her concern about her surgery was alleviated. Since I help clients with professional success and personal success, I was able to bridge the two areas of her life and help her to decide what she needed to alleviate a significant part of her anxiety. We also talked about how to handle notifying her co-workers (is it necessary?) and HR."
When and Whom to Inform
Tell your immediate supervisor first.
Offer only what information is necessary about your health.
Predict your return date to full-time work, with support from your surgical team. Consider adding a small amount of more time than what you are advised for a "cushion" should recovery take a bit longer than expected.
Present an outline of how you can assist in preparing or training another person (s) to take over your responsibilities on a temporary basis.
Consider options available at the company for more flexible hours, hybrid work, or shorter days before or after surgery.
Discuss any special accommodations needed upon your return (a closer parking space, lunchtime food delivery, a more supportive chair, etc.)
Assure your supervisor that you will be meeting with Human Resources to plan your medical leave and will keep information flowing between yourself, your supervisor, and HR.
Notify Human Resources immediately after your discussion with your supervisor and discuss all the same topics as well as Family Medical Leave. Depending on the situation, you may wish to speak with HR first. This is a discussion point that a coach could be very helpful.
How to Handle Maintaining Your Privacy and "Curious" Colleagues
Coworkers will be instrumental before and during your medical leave. While you can share information about your leave of absence with them, you are not obligated to. "I advise clients to decide beforehand what information they will share and to stick to that plan. Boundaries are important and sometimes colleagues can be rather curious," says Siegert.
Focusing the conversation on how you will assist them to be ready to help cover your duties is the top priority. It shows respect for everyone and should alleviate concerns your colleagues may have. Showing respect helps maintain a good relationship with peers up through the chain of command.
Handling a major surgery and maintaining a career illuminates the intersection between professional and personal life where an Executive Coach can be instrumental in helping things move along as smoothly as possible. Navigating a corporate employer or any other type of career environment during a challenging time is pivotal for professional advancement.
A healthy mindset and the right advisor to help tackle this critical time with its demands on both a career and family/love life can be a source of stress relief and strength. For more information on how an Executive Coach can assist, schedule a free 30-minute consultation, or email email@example.com.
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