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How to Handle an Unsympathetic Boss

By: Maggie Lonsdale BA (hons) - Updated: 19 Mar 2015 | comments*Discuss
Boss Unsympathetic Work Employer

Dealing with an illness is difficult enough without having to cope with an unsympathetic boss too. While you would hope that your boss would try as hard as possible to help you through your illness so that you can return to work as quickly as possible, many actually make it harder by making comments, being inflexible and/or placing unnecessary demands on you.

It is imperative that you manage the situation as best as possible because any additional stress will impede your recuperation. Although you may think that this is easier said than done, there are certainly ways in which you can minimise the impact of your boss’s attitude and, hopefully, change it for the better.

Explain the Situation

Too many people who are dealing with illness in the workplace try to put a ‘brave face’ on things. While this is fine if you just have a short-term illness that you will quickly get over and a couple of days sick leave will be fine, for longer-term illnesses, it is impractical for many reasons. Firstly, you will not be able to get the official documentation that you may require if you start to claim Statutory Sickness Pay unless you have kept your employers informed. Secondly, you may be judged on a poor performance at work.

It is recommended that you speak to your boss as soon as you are aware that your illness may have a long term impact. If you feel that your relationship with your boss is not very positive, or that they have a history of being unsympathetic with colleagues with illnesses, it may be a good idea to request that a representative from your HR department is also present. If you do not have an HR department, ask that another line manager or senior employee is present. Be honest and clear about the conditions of your illness and state how you feel it may impact on your work – time off for appointments, lack of energy and so on. Your employers should then carry out a risk assessment to see how your job can be tailored to handle your limitations.

Keep Them Informed

Once the initial conversation is over, you will still need to keep your boss informed of any changes in your condition or appointment schedule. If you feel they have not been sympathetic or handled your illness well, now is the time to ask for a reassessment of your workplace situation in light of your continuing illness.

Perhaps your unsympathetic boss is making comments about the amount of time you are away from the workplace, or is noting that areas of your job description are not being covered. It is imperative that you call them on their behaviour, even though this can be very difficult. Rather than get into a confrontational situation, it is worth making a simple comment that shows that you are not prepared to be treated in this way. It may be enough to stop the situation escalating and having to bring in a mediator from HR. Try something like, “I would far prefer to be in the office than at a hospital appointment,” or, “I have informed you of my hospital appointment schedule.” Not earth shattering retorts, but enough to show that you are keen to handle the situation with dignity.

Gain Support

If the negative comments or little jibes continue, you will need to gain additional support. Unless you want to go all guns blazing to the HR department or big boss, waving your doctor’s note and employment contract (which you can do but it would be rather stressful and you may be able to deal with it in a better way,) ask to have a meeting with your boss, and another representative that you trust, and explain that you’re finding their behaviour hard to deal with, especially as you are in the middle of a difficult illness (word as appropriate to your situation). Their behaviour should change if you are open and honest about the impact it’s having on you and, unfortunately, if it doesn’t, you may need to think about finding a new employer.

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@ellecoombes. It depends on what your doctor, employer, occupational health worker etc have agreed with you. Has this not been discussed or documented?
AReturnToWork - 23-Mar-15 @ 11:20 AM
I am going back to work on phase back to work! Two mornings instead of five.. How long does phase back to work last for?? Thank you
Ellecoombes - 19-Mar-15 @ 4:16 PM
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