I’m a hypocrite. As a manager and a teammate, I’m always encouraging people to take the time that they need to take care of themselves. I remind people that I’m more than happy to hold down the fort and that their teammates are also happy to pitch in. I make sure that I’m keeping people’s situations and contexts top of mind so that I can actively work on supporting everyone on my team.
Why am I a hypocrite? Because as much as I push people to identify and communicate their needs and to let the team help them, I’m the worst at doing it myself. Here’s an example example: a few weeks ago, I was sick for most of the week. I woke up with a sore throat on Monday and a cough started developing throughout the day. I had to mute myself during meetings, but I still worked a full day.
On Tuesday, I had the same sore throat and cough, but my head was starting to ache and I was blowing my nose much more frequently. I made it most of the way through the day before deciding that I was going to take the rest of the afternoon off. On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I decided that I was too sick to work and took those days off. But every day it was a really difficult decision for me to say that I was too sick to work. I felt like I was letting my team down by not being there, especially during a time crunch when we were rushing to get a project ready for an on-time release. And because of that, I worked until I realized that I just couldn’t do it anymore.
When I told people that I wasn’t feeling well and needed to take sick days, everyone was incredibly supportive and accommodating. They assured me that they would keep everything running smoothly and that I should just focus on feeling better. But I still felt like I was making too big of a deal out of a sickness and that I wasn’t being fair to everyone else.
Why? The long answer is capitalism. People are taught that they are only as valuable as the work that they do. They’re taught that they need to do their “fair share,” and that if they’re not doing that, then they’re letting everyone down. Given all of that pressure, it’s no wonder people feel guilty taking sick days even when they really need them.
For me, being disabled also plays a role in my guilt. As a disabled person, I have a lot of guilt around being seen as a “burden.” It’s a common phenomena experienced by the chronically disabled. Initially, people are often super understanding, supportive, and accommodative. But once they realize that the disability is here to stay — unlike a broken bone, for instance — then they start to resent any amount of effort that they have to put into supporting said disabled person. They’re considered “burdens.”
Because of this phenomena, it makes me extra nervous when I lean on my team, peers, or superiors for support, because I worry about running out of that understanding, support, and accommodation.
It’s something that I’m struggling with right this very moment, as I broke my ankle on Sunday. Everyone has been amazingly supportive, but I’m constantly worried that I’ll ask for too much or that I’m not trying hard enough to do my “fair share.” It’s a really sucky feeling.
The moral of this story? If you have needs — like if you’re sick — tell people and let them help you. And if someone shares their needs with you, be supportive and keep in mind that it’s everyone’s job to make sure that everyone can participate and feel included.