Chronic Communication at Work: Should You Try to Hide Fatigue?

If chronic illness saps your energy, here are seven things to consider before you decide how much to say about it.

Chronic Communication at Work: Should You Try to Hide Fatigue?

By Dr GaryCA Published at October 31, 2017 Views 348

Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.

Daniel recently started on a new regimen for his chronic condition. His doctor warned him that he might feel some fatigue for the first couple of weeks or so, while his body adjusted to it.

And wow, has he ever. Daniel’s been having problems with sleepiness. He starts out the day feeling fairly energetic, but the fatigue hits him early in the afternoon and pretty much stays there. Yesterday, he started to doze off during a meeting. Nobody said anything, but he could tell a couple of his coworkers noticed.

Now what?

Daniel’s not sure if he should say anything about this or not. His boss knows about his chronic condition, as do most of his coworkers. But Daniel has made a practice of not talking about it. His boss occasionally checks in with him on how he’s doing, and Daniel keeps the conversation short, basically assuring his boss that he is doing fine. He’s concerned about attracting any attention to his condition, for fear of giving the impression that he can’t carry his weight.

It’s really important for Daniel to feel like he’s handling things at work, and he wants his coworkers to feel the same way. In fact, he makes sure he always projects energy and enthusiasm. So you can guess how Daniel felt when he knew his dozing off had been noticed. Fortunately, his boss wasn’t at this meeting.

However, Daniel knows that he may experience the fatigue symptoms for a while longer. He has generally been able to work through his bad days, or he’s used a sick day if he felt bad enough. But he can’t take multiple days off just for feeling tired; he may need those days for something more serious in the future.

To tell or not to tell

Daniel’s debating whether he should let everybody know what’s going on with him. On one hand, his coworkers would understand this is temporary. On the other hand, he is concerned they might start wondering if he is becoming too debilitated to work. That’s certainly not the case, but will they understand it’s not?

Have you ever felt like Daniel? It can be hard to fake being energetic when you’re tired out. But how much do you want to disclose?

Here are some ideas to consider:

Everybody goes through rough times. Whether or not they are living with a chronic condition. Have your coworkers ever gone through a rough patch, a time when they were having trouble coping emotionally, or were not feeling well physically? Nobody has consistent smooth sailing; life doesn’t work that way. And I suspect that you, and your coworkers, have cut them some slack when they needed you to. Is it possible you could take some of the pressure off yourself to be constantly on your “A" game and that your coworkers might do the same?

Disclosing can set you up for further scrutiny. That’s the bottom line. Your coworkers may be concerned about you and keep an eye on you. Maybe check in a little more than you would like them to. But is it possible they would do that because they care about you? And not because they are waiting for you to fail? It might help you to shift your perspective on what it means when your coworkers are giving you extra attention.

Not disclosing can lead to making guesses. Consider the potential cost of keeping how you feel to yourself. When we humans lack information, our minds are only too willing to fill in the gaps with a story. Often about the worst possible outcome. And in organizations, the rumor mill can perpetuate and enhance those stories. If you feel your fatigue is obvious, or if you are concerned about those times when it does show up, like at a meeting, then it might be a good idea to “head things off at the pass” by coming clean before the rumor mill cranks up. What do you think?

You can follow up disclosure with updates. Of course, if you do disclose you’re having some energy challenges temporarily, you are going to get questions on how you’re doing. Again, you can avoid the questions by being proactive, letting your coworkers know how your situation is progressing. This will help avoid over-interpretation of any fatigue they see, or assume, you are experiencing.

Actions speak louder than words. And actions can help to dispel misperceptions and rumors. If you’re continuing to feel fatigued, make an effort to show that you are doing everything you can to hold up your end. That doesn’t mean to push yourself in a way that can be detrimental to your health. But do what you can, and don’t be afraid to let your coworkers know of your progress in completing your part of a task. Smile. Project optimism and enthusiasm.

If you need some help, or some extra time, ask for it. While that can take a hit on your ego, it’s a lot better to provide a “heads up” than to pretend everything’s okay when it’s not. When you aren’t upfront about your ability to get something done and done on time, you end up making extra work for your coworkers, and at the last minute. And your boss isn’t going to appreciate looking like he or she wasn’t on top of the situation. Nobody likes surprises at work.

Show yourself some compassion. I know feeling fatigued at work can be scary. Everybody wants to be viewed as competent, fully able to handle their workload. And when you’re trying to cope with fatigue, you may feel anything but “A” game. The road can get a little rocky at times. When it does, avoid falling into self-criticism or creating worst-case scenarios in your mind. Give yourself some encouragement. You’re doing the best you can.

You, your job, and your chronic condition. When your energy level at work isn’t what you want it to be, consider this a dip in the road and not the end of the road. In other words, keep your perspective. Consider the options in how much you want to disclose or not disclose. And remember: you’re in control of the message.

Have you struggled with fatigue at work? Add a comment below to tell us about it and share your advice.

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