Navigating Work & Professional Interviews with IBD
So, you landed an interview and you're already stressing about whether you should bring up the fact you battle inflammatory bowel disease. Chances are you have two voices in your head - one telling you not to say anything and the other telling your to scream it from the rooftops. Lucky for me, prior to having my son, I was able to work full-time with Crohn's disease.
Here are some tips for navigating interviews, the workplace and co-workers:
- To tell or not to tell. During the interview process, I've never felt the need to bring up the fact that I battle Crohn's disease. I wanted the interviewer to look at me, just as he or she would look at any candidate. The fact I have Crohn's has nothing to do with my talent, ambition and drive. I've found it most helpful to disclose my patient journey during the first few days of orientation. I've had jobs where I never articulated the fact I had Crohn's and would get hospitalized and my boss would say he had no idea I even had IBD. In more recent years, I've found it helpful to clearly communicate this the first week on the job. Then, I don't have to explain myself (as much) when a flare up blindsides me or I have to work from home because it's too painful to wear anything but pajamas and lay on the couch.
- Sick/vacation time. The majority of employers have set sick and vacation time, depending on your ranks in the company you may or may not be able to negotiate this. Regardless, you need to at least ask. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. For instance, if they can't come up on salary, that's when you say "since you weren't able to meet my salary requirements, can we add a week of vacation or sick time?" You'll thank yourself later.
- Don't make IBD the elephant in the room. I've found it to be much more helpful being transparent and being the one to share your personal health "news" rather than have the office gossip pass along something she heard. Let the people hear it from the horse's mouth! You can control what is known and what is being shared. People will be able to empathize with you better and show a different level of understanding. Your team will rally around you. By educating your work family, you have extra support.
- Get to know your HR team and the benefits available to you. Working closely with those who know the ins and outs of your company's benefits will give you peace of mind and a leg up when you need to take advantage of what can be offered to you. Build a rapport with the people who can help you when you need it most. I know when I had my bowel resection surgery, I leaned heavily on the team back at the office who was in charge of setting up my short term disability and didn't have to worry about all the logistics. It gave me time to focus on my health and healing.
- Communicate when you hurt. I get it, there are times with IBD where we hurt every day. But if your symptoms are extreme (if you can't sit up straight, are vomiting in the bathroom or need to unbutton your pants) - tell you boss. Don't put yourself through living hell, just to save face. Chances are your superiors will offer up options for you to get the job done in a different way.
Everyone's IBD impacts them differently. For me, despite having "severe" Crohn's, I was able to work as a TV news anchor for nearly a decade and also spent time in Corporate America. Regardless of what job you have, there will always be stress. There will always be challenges. There will always be some days that aren't as good as others. If you feel you are able, then trust in yourself, you know your limits. Don't let this disease stop you from pursuing your professional and personal dreams.
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