Patricia Chaney

7 Ways to Help an Employee Coping With a New Diagnosis

When one of your employees gets a new diagnosis, especially an unexpected one, their worrying doesn’t stop as they leave the hospital. They’ll carry that stress with them at home, as they run errands and, of course, at work.

As an employer, it can be tough to know how to help someone coping with a diagnosis — whether it’s their own or a family member’s — but as difficult as it may be, letting your workforce know you’re there to be a supportive presence could have a big impact on their mental state and their productivity and they navigate treatment and recovery.

Try out the following seven tips to ensure you’re prepared to begin supporting employees through a tough time, whatever their situation is.

1. Respect Their Privacy

Legally, an employee doesn’t have to tell you that they or a family member received a new diagnosis. Let them come to you in their own time to share the details, and ask how or if they want the news to be shared with colleagues. Once they’ve answered, respect their decision.

2. Direct Them to the Right Benefits

Make sure the employee has someone to talk to who can thoroughly explain all of the benefits available to them, including health insurance, short-term disability, the Family and Medical Leave Act, counseling services, an employee assistance program and any other benefits you may have in place.

3. Be Flexible With Scheduling

Some diagnoses might not change an employee’s schedule much, but others can require time-consuming treatments and appointments. As much as possible, discuss ways you can adjust their schedule to accommodate treatment and recovery. Can some client meetings be conducted through a video conference rather than in person? Can the employee work from home during specific treatments or during their overall recovery period? Can their core hours be shifted to accommodate appointments?

4. Create a Plan for Work

A newly diagnosed employee might worry about not getting all their work done, but that kind of added stress will only slow down their recovery. Take the lead in developing a schedule to determine what tasks need prioritizing, what can be delayed and what should be delegated to someone else.

5. Give Them Space

Answering calls from a doctor about test results or other confidential medical information can be awkward in an open office environment, especially if an employee is keeping their condition private. Offer up your office or another quiet, separate area as a space to take phone calls. Small gestures like this can do a lot to maintain morale and make your entire staff feel supported.

6. Guide Co-Workers in How to Help

If the employee chooses to share their diagnosis with others, they may find themselves overwhelmed as everyone jumps in to help. While your employees’ thoughtfulness is obviously a positive thing, try to direct their energy in a more useful way. Ask what would be most beneficial to the employee with the health concern, and tell your staff how and when they can assist. For instance, you might send around a sign-up sheet with different opportunities to help, such as bringing in a meal, doing chores, donating vacation hours or raising money to cover medical costs. That way, their efforts will all go toward the right things.

7. Check In With Encouragement

Calls, texts or cards just checking in and hoping for a quick recovery let the employee know you care. Just make sure not to mention work — there’s a better time and place for those conversations (namely, at work).

Work is a source of stress for many Americans — but when an employee is facing a new diagnosis, you can flip the script and turn the workplace into somewhere they feel supported. This can improve morale, giving the struggling employee an emotional boost that can aid their recovery. As an employer, you have an opportunity every day to decide what kind of business you want to run and how it treats the people who work to keep the company successful. It just makes sense to make coping with a diagnosis as easy for them as possible.

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