Advocating for Yourself at Work

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  • When I first started working I did not want anyone to know that I was living with Fibromyalgia. This meant that I was trying to fit in and trying to make it look like I could handle all the workload at a similar pace as my counterpart. This approach put me in a position where I did not create any room for me to listen to my body and respect my limitations. One of the biggest questions everyone with a chronic condition such as Fibromyalgia asks themselves when they are in the workplace is whether they should disclose their condition to their employer. How have you addressed this question and why?

     

     

    Jerrie Kumalah
  • I learnt pretty quickly that for me to be the best employee that I could be I had to be able to advocate for myself in the workplace. This also meant understanding that not every work environment will be supportive or understanding.

    Step one to advocating for myself was disclosing that I live with a chronic pain condition and that it was essential that I find a flexible and manageable way to do my work. Before i even got to this point I spent months tracking my symptoms in an excel spreadsheet jotting down how I felt at work. Through this process I was able to identify my peak moments and I was able to start brainstorming how I would address the foggy days and the days when i might not be at my peak but still functional enough to work on something. On foggy days I mostly organized files and did the simplest of tasks. On very tough days I had to learn to step away and take the necessary rest that I needed otherwise I knew my body would make me pay for it. Regular stretch breaks, quick naps, accepting that some days nothing will get accomplished, and very clear communication with my supervisor are a few of the things I do to find balance. How have you gone about managing the challenges of multiple symptoms in the workplace?

    A few simple resources for the workplace:
    http://www.webmd.com/fibromyalgia/guide/fibromyalgia-work-and-disability
    http://www.everydayhealth.com/fibromyalgia/coping-physically/fibromyalgia-at-work.aspx

    Jerrie Kumalah
  • I started advocating for myself at the onset of my symptoms and, given that the people I worked for knew me from before I started having problems, they were very supportive and told me, “do what you need to do.”  I could come in late if I was having a bad day and stay late to get what I needed to get done, done.  I could do PT (physical training) on my own versus with a group due to the fact I could no longer do what I’d done before and needed to adapt to my new “normal”… running had become difficult whereas it wasn’t difficult before.  I think everyone knew I was devastated and no one (including me) knew what was actually happening to me.  I moved from that workplace overseas and my new boss was not understanding at all.  I advocated for myself there and asked for flexibility in my work schedule and with PT but this boss was having none of it.  I was passed over for duties that were commensurate with my rank and experience, plus this boss moved me into more of an admin role doing Inspector General (IG) inspection prep instead of allowing me to do my job, which was Contracting.  When he tried to take away a class I was selected for, I pushed for feedback on why that was happening and he refused to provide it.  I actually filed an IG complaint a few days before this boss would be non-compliant with the Air Force Instruction (AFI) in regards to feedback requests… I did this to let him know I wasn’t playing around – as sort of a shot across the bow.  I also let my bosses boss know what was happening.  We had mediated feedback that still did not answer my questions (which was confirmed by the third party that was present).  I went back to my bosses boss and requested to be moved from my current organization.  The move was granted and my bosses there were so wonderful, I can’t even describe the difference.  They allowed me flexibility to PT when I needed to, to go to doctor’s appointments, etc., and to take time off (I used vacation leave) when needed.  Because of the support, I worked very hard for my bosses in that position…  answering emails at 11 p.m., at 5 a.m., at 2 a.m.; handling texts and emails on my cellphone wherever I might be; coordinating tasks even while I was at the doctor’s office.  They knew I was giving my all and cut me slack when I needed it.  They saw I was hurting and still pushing through…  That support made all the difference in the world.  My chronic pain condition is severe enough that I was medically retired from the Air Force and I have been on disability for the last 7 years.  #advocatingforyourself  #beingassertive  #fightingforwhatisright  #coping  #supportivebossesrock

    MyndiR
    • I had a similar experience where I had a boss that refused to be accommodating. I had to take it up with HR and it was quite exhausting to have to fight for what I needed. I ended up having to leave the job because they pushed me out but it taught me that not every work environment can adjust to my needs or is a conducive environment. Its baby steps finding the right balance but advocacy is key

       

      Jerrie Kumalah
  • I have been lucky to have the same job since the onset of my pain three years ago, so I haven’t had to experience adjusting to a new boss and a new job with these limitations. I would imagine that what Myndi says about people knowing you before the start of any problems makes a significant difference in how well your superiors and coworkers accommodate the necessary flexibility. My bosses and team members have all been really understanding about my erratic schedule with lots of doctors and PT appointments, and working from home has not been an issue.
     
    That said, at the start of my pain I had to work really hard to communicate to the people around me and also to Human Resources about how severe my symptoms were becoming. I’ve needed to get several doctors notes. One to explain that working from home while I recovered was necessary; another to make clear that I need to be able to limit my hours in the office when I need rest; another to explain that when I am in the office I need new office furniture. Working with HR to get the standing desk was a real fight because they had to special order the furniture and it was significantly more expensive than what they are used to providing. I had to go back to my doctor three times to change the language of the doctors note to include a specific model of desk instead of generic language. Even after the doctor’s note was specific, the facilities team delivered two other options for me to try in an effort to keep costs down and I had to reject both of them. I didn’t like that I had to be obstinate in order to get what I knew was going to work best for me. It’s been over a year since I’ve settled into this new normal and it was absolutely worth the effort to communicate and advocate well for myself when things started up.
    #worththeconflict #doctorsnotes

    Rachel Carriere
    • Even though you had to be very persistent its great to hear that your job was ultimately receptive.

      #receptiveworkspaces #advocacy

      Jerrie Kumalah

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