In this season of thinking of others, I thought I’d share this online article I came across recently, addressing how best to handle all workers when one announces he or she is terminally ill.
The piece — by Lynne Curry, president of Anchorage, Alaska-based The Growth Company — begins with a reader’s question about ”Allen,” who “occupies a critical position in our company” and has just let his employer know he has bone-marrow cancer and less than one year to live.
“Allen doesn’t want to quit work and, even if he wanted to, can’t afford to do so … . We’ve never faced anything like this before. What can you recommend we … do to handle this well?” the question reads.
Everything about Curry’s answer makes sense. From going over his benefits and granting him work flexibility to giving him confidentiality — without falling into the trap of assuming, just because he’s told a select group of friends, that anyone has blanket permission to discuss his situation — the response underscores the importance of facing, rather than ignoring, this reality.
Every workplace faces it at one time or another. “Some organizations make the mistake of attempting to ignore reality and thus relegate the dying employee to work/life’s fringes,” Curry writes. “Co-workers generally need the opportunity to support Allen, if only to say, ‘I’ll be here for you.’ ”
And managers, she adds, “need to reach out to these secondary sufferers who may ache for Allen or have feelings about the extra work they may have to pick up.” She even suggests that letting Allen train his successor might be more appreciated and productive than “ghoulish.”
Facing the end of a life head-on hits a real nerve with me right now. Both my parents are in the throes of failing health and are being “guided” by my dad to do whatever can be done and be a realist about what can’t. He’s shown me all the boxes, and where the files are. He’s making sure we’ll be as trouble-free as possible. He’s passing the baton. And we’re honoring his approach and attitude in return.
I can only think that a manager or HR professional leading ill or grieving employees with the same straightforward respect for everyone involved will be doing his or her organization a monumental service.