- By Ian Bradley
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In my previous post, I made the point that although the family physician provides the official “time-off-work-for stress” letter, the principal decision-maker is the patient. I argued that most workers under stress debate the pro’s and con’s of setting the medical leave in motion very much like we all did as children when awakening with a sore throat and weighing the advantages and disadvantages of missing school for the day, with in my case, considering the dreaded mustard plaster.
Once taken, the stress leave can have extremely variable and often unpredictable consequences. On the positive side, I have had clients whose excessively demanding or non-rewarding bosses were suddenly confronted with the consequences of their own bad management practices. The leave acted as a wake-up call reflecting the serious consequences of the way the manager was treating the employee. In these situations, I have witnessed paradigm shifts on the part of managers and organizations who change their approach to the long-term betterment of the client.
In other cases, the stress leave triggers an employer’s examination not of their management style but of the employee’s future utility. Although employers are careful to avoid legal liability, many covertly justify shifting the employee into a career-limited role either with a re-org or a re-assignment of job duties. Departing packages are not uncommon in these situations
Often the enlightenment occurs not in the employer but the employee who realizes that no matter how much they change the workplace won’t. As a result, they use the time-off to begin a job search elsewhere.
Still others use the stress leave as the penultimate test of whether they or the company can change for the better. One key element of my coaching with workers who have taken a stress leave is to understand what happened. That understanding involves identifying the organization and interpersonal factors that created with stress, as well as, a review of the coping resources that were employed by the worker.
In almost every case, we find things to improve. More assertive ways to communicate with the boss, better ways to organize one’s workload, gaining more energy for the job through exercise and better nutrition are only a handful of the possible solutions my clients and I generate. The advantage of the stress leave is that we can use this period to test-out whether these new strategies might work.
That’s why after a period and rest and recuperation, I encourage my clients to meet with key members of the organization to test-out these new possibilities. Answering questions such as; “will my boss support me or continue my public excoriations?” can only be answered in meetings with that boss. The stress leave sometimes serves as a type of “reset” button that facilitates positive change.
However, one thing that I do not condone is the belief that things will improve with rest and recovery. As I have argued in other posts, prolonged rest and recovery accompanied by growing isolation from the workplace only leads to declining worker confidence and increasing discomfort with returning. Instead, the stress leave needs to be a period where new solutions are generated and tested either with the goal of returning to the old job or finding new directions.