Changes at work - feeling unsettled

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I have previously posted elsewhere - and was advised to post again here......

Apologies  if this is the wrong place to post this...

As a bit of background I have suffered anxiety for 30 years.  I have lots of treatment over the years but it still manifests as self doubt and low self esteem. 

I work 4 hours a day in an office job which is quite technical.   I was promised training and support when I joined 4 years ago.  However in practice I was left very much to my own devices.   I managed to pretty much teach myself and clear a large backlog and deal with some really difficult and controversial problems that I inherited. This really exacerbated my anxiety. 

I have tried several times to get the training and supervision that I needed.  It would begin only to fall by the wayside.   I lost patience and I was told at the beginning of 2021 that they were hiring a new supervisor. 

The new supervisor started 5 months before I found my tumour.   She didn't have the knowledge for my job but between us we were able to get rid of a few more historic problems.   She was always gushing with praise and knew of my anxiety (I am always open about it) and the fact that I'd not been supervised before she started. 

My new supervisor has been a great support and I received 6 months paid sick leave possibly due to her input.  I am coming up to 12 months sick leave (I've been receiving ESA) recently.   

I had a conversation with my supervisor yesterday about returning to work soon. She was so pleased. They have a contractor who had been doing most of my work but they only allowed him 15 hours a week (I do 20 a week).

My supervisor has mentioned the fact that the contractor is doing my job in 15 hours a few times now.  I pointed out that this was causing my anxiety to flare up (I felt she was making comparisons).  She said that the contractor was much more matter of fact if things didnt go to plan, whereas I would beat myself up.  I felt like I was being challenged so stood my corner.  She criticised me for justifying myself!! She pulled me up a couple of times for justifying myself and taking things personally.   She even said "we know what you are like".

It became clear that the contractor is being reactive and not proactive like I was.   My supervisor has agreed to a slow phased return to work and indicated she is going to control and monitor what I am doing, as they've had no complaints to the contractors way of doing things whilst I have been off. It feels like they're judging my work and think I have made a meal of things and that I am the problem because of my anxiety. 

I feel that they are going to insist I do things the way that the contractor did things.  I just feel when I return I am going to be challenged if I think my system was correct or if I point out why I wouldn't want to do things his way.   I can see arguments arising with my supervisor.   I also feel like they will say I have done it wrong from the outset - even though I was left to it.  My self esteem is in my boots.

There has been no suggestion of reducing my hours, but its clear that they'll monitor me and may insist I change how I do the job.  I feel unsettled.

If it wasn't for the fact that I've had cancer I'd look for another job.

Any thoughts on the above...sorry for waffling....

  • Hi

    Thank you for contacting us here at Macmillan.  My name is Rachel and I am a Work Support Advisor on Macmillan’s National Support Line.  My team provides guidance on your rights at work when you are affected by cancer and I would like to provide you with some information which I hope will help you when planning your return to work.   I’m sorry to read that you feel so unsettled ahead of this.

    Prior to your period of sickness absence, it sounds like things had improved in lots of ways at work.  Following long periods of feeling unsupported in dealing with some really tricky and often inherited issues, you had managed, along with a supportive new supervisor, to work in a way which made you feel not only more supported but more confident too.

    Returning to work following a period of absence can be really daunting for so many people but it can be particularly tough after a period of ill health; thinking about your building your own strength and resilience, as well as returning after a long period of time away, to processes which might have changed or even just feel different.

    I thought it might be useful at this stage in my response to talk about your rights at work as this might help you in thinking about what support you might need when you return.  I wanted to make you aware that due to your cancer diagnosis, you are considered to have a disability under the Equality Act 2010 or Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (if you live in Northern Ireland). As disability is a ‘protected characteristic’ under the above legislation your employer should not discriminate against you because of your cancer and also has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to support you at work. This protection is lifelong and does not depend on an active cancer diagnosis. 

    I have attached a link our booklet “Your Rights at Work’”, which explains more about the Equality Act and how you are protected in the workplace. 

    Reasonable adjustments remove or minimise disadvantages experienced by disabled people. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to ensure that disabled people are not disadvantaged in the workplace. They should also make sure policies and practices do not put disabled people at a disadvantage.  

    You can request a reasonable adjustment in the workplace, providing you can relate it back to your cancer. Your employer has a duty to consider all reasonable adjustments and a failure to do so could suggest disability discrimination. If your employer rejects a reasonable adjustment request, they need to be able to demonstrate why it is “unreasonable” for them to accommodate or it could suggest that you are being treated less favourably as a disabled person. If you feel this applies, it would be advisable to seek further advice. 

    It sounds like your employer may already be aware of their legal responsibility to support your return to work and is very much looking forward to welcoming you back into the workplace.  You have mentioned that a phased return has been discussed, which is a common example of a reasonable adjustment and that your supervisor intends to support you closely.  Whilst it is great that your supervisor has pledged to assist you, it will be important that this does not feel like ‘micro-management’ and that her help makes you feel supported to perform your role. 

    You may wish to think about whether as a reasonable adjustment, your performance targets could be adjusted to support you in this period of returning to work. This could help you manage how you may feel about being compared to the contractor who has performed some of your duties whilst you have been off.  It is important that your manager does not compare your performance with another member of staff who may not face the same challenges that you may face as a result to your diagnosis. 

    It might also be useful for you to think about any other reasonable adjustments which might support your return to work.  It can be useful to make a request in writing for any reasonable adjustments to help you cope with your job.  If you have a union rep you could discuss this with them.  You could also make your request using the reasonable adjustment template letter available on the Equality Advisory Support Service (EASS). You can include suggestions about the adjustments you need. It may help to support your request with medical evidence from your doctor, such as a Fit Note that lists the adjustments you need. Your company may arrange for you to have an Occupational Health assessment to identify reasonable adjustments which can often help with formalising a back to work plan.

    It is natural to feel apprehensive about going back to work, particularly since another person has been carrying out part of your role whilst you have been off. Perhaps you could you arrange to have another chat with your supervisor ahead of your return?  This might provide you with an opportunity to talk about how much you are looking forward to getting back to work but reflecting on how things might feel a bit different for you at first and most importantly asking for her support with that.  There may be an opportunity for you to have some really open discussions with your supervisor as to how the role is carried out and your feelings around this.  Certainly, this is something you have been able to achieve before, resolving complex issues together.

    I do hope this information has helped you. I thought it might be useful for me to let you know that we have a team of Information and Support Advisors on our Support Line who can be contacted every day of the year between 8am and 8pm on 0808 808 0000, options 1, then 1 again.   They can provide you with space to talk if you should need it and can also explore options for accessing emotional support.

    Best regards

    Rachel, Work Support Advisor 

    Remember you can also speak with the Macmillan Support Line team of experts. Phone free on 0808 808 0000 (7 days a week, 8am-8pm) or by email.