My new manager is giving me a hard time about how many days I’ve missed over the past year. It was a horrible year for me, health-wise. I’ve had pneumonia, laryngitis, pink eye, and a severe allergy attack that required me to take Prednisone. I remember every one of those sick days: I missed my birthday, a concert by my favourite singer and I nearly missed Christmas. In addition, after being away for 10 days near the end of last year, I used up a week’s holiday time to help my boss. My boss knows I do great work, as I’ve won three awards in a row.
Recently, when I was ill at work, coughing like crazy and looking green, my boss took me aside to show me how many days I was absent last year. (I got doctors’ notes for all those illnesses.) He wrote it on paper, signed it and hand delivered it to me at my desk, as I coughed away.
My previous department had no issue with my illnesses because they were legitimate. Doesn’t my new boss know that I already feel awful when I’m sick? Does he think this attendance reminder will make my bronchial flu symptoms go away? Bully them out of me? How do I deal with this kind of manager? He’s a robot and I hope I gave him my cold.
THE FIRST ANSWER
Executive coach, Toronto
You were right to make your health your priority. What you need to deal with now, though, is your disappointment. You missed happy occasions, were unappreciated for giving up holiday time and you’re not getting any sympathy to soften the blow.
If your “robot” boss is an unquestionably cold, cruel human being, prepare your exit plan. But it’s more likely he was tactless as a result of being affected by the difficulties your absences caused – and whether or not it’s fair or conscious, he holds you responsible.
Some people abuse sick days, but you know you are not one of them, so there’s nothing to gain by apologizing for your time off, defending yourself or criticizing your boss. However, you could let him know that you’re aware your illness has affected both of you, and your intention is to have a healthy and productive year ahead. This might sound obvious, but reminding him that you’re on the same side can influence how he treats you.
Also, make a request: That he trust your dedication to continuing your track record of excellence. Move forward with optimism and bring him along.
THE SECOND ANSWER
President and CEO, Spectrum Organizational Development, Toronto
Empathy is a two-way street. While your new manager may lack some basic leadership skills, as well as some maturity, I want you to look at the situation from his perspective.
You may not be aware of how resentful your former, and perhaps current, co-workers have been because of your repeated absences, legitimate or not. When you fall ill for prolonged periods of time, they are often left picking up your work load, and this can have a lasting impact on how they feel about you.
Unfortunately, the grapevine is a wonderful way for information to spread, regardless of its validity. It’s very likely you have developed a “reputation” for being absent from work, and the perception may be that your work ethic and reliability is suspect.
In addition, it is much easier for companies to track “negative” events, such as sick days, as opposed to “good” events such as your task completion successes.
If you want to fix this situation, you should sit down with your new boss, acknowledge your unusual year of illnesses, and walk him through the positive aspects of your work, as well as your strategy to deal with your responsibilities in the event that you come down with something else. Your manager’s approach is anything but right. However, you do have a responsibility to alleviate his fears, and re-establish your value to your new department.
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