Struggling to keep your job while living with a chronic health condition?
Then you might want to tune into Downton Abbey, Season 1, to see what to do and what to avoid.
Maybe they should make a series called, "Working and Living With Chronic Health Problems"? I'm doubtful the scriptwriters set out with this intention but they really nailed it with Mrs. Patmore and Mr. Bates.
Let's start with Bates. While interviewing for his new job as Valet to Lord Grantham, he really wants the job. Grantham, who seems eager to hire him (they'd been in the Boer War together), expresses worry whether Bates can manage it. Bates replies with confidence that he can. (Meanwhile, as Bates stands there looking perfectly normal, we viewers haven't a clear idea what they're referring to.)
But when his 'colleagues', the rest of the staff, grumble that Bates won't be able to carry his weight, we realize all isn't as it looks. When Bates falls, it becomes clear. Bates has one very bad leg. As he continues to drop platters and have trouble, the others are grumbling louder.
So, how does Bates handle this? With some wise moves:
- He says in front of all the staff that he can do his job and they don't have to worry that he can't. Whether they believe him or not, he tells them he's not expecting them to work harder for his sake. He's also telling them he knows what he faces and can manage.
- When he falls in a very public moment, he accepts help getting up. But he keeps his feelings in check so others don't have to feel more uncomfortable.
- He is exceedingly kind and respectful to others, particularly staff who are mistreated poorly by others,. This earns him allegiance and loyalty (except from Thomas who resents Bates for getting the job he wanted- but clearly he's just a nasty piece of work.)
Now, Mrs. Patmore is another story completely. She's been the cook for a long time. Although she's respected for her work, it's clear she's difficult to get along well with. When Mrs. Patmore makes mistakes, she blames it on the person below her in the 'food chain' ('scuse my pun), the scullery maid, Daisy. But, as the blaming gets noisier and the mistakes get worse (adding salt rather than sugar), the Housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, wants to fire her.
Lucky for Mrs. Patmore, the Butler, Mr. Carson (still with me?) figures out it's her vision and demands to know what's wrong. Mrs. Patmore says it's cataracts. When he asks why she didn't tell anyone, she replies (and I'm paraphrasing) , "What's a cook without sight?" It's clear she believes she'll lose her job now. And given her behavior, it's not a stretch to imagine just that will happen.
Lucky for her, her employer believes it's his responsibility to take care of those who work for him (old fashioned, no?) Lord Grantham arranges and pays for surgery so she will improve.
What's the lesson learned here? Well, clearly, it's not that you'll hold onto your job if you're difficult. Nor that you should hold out hope for a boss like Lord Grantham (though it would be refreshing).
No, I'd say that it was easier for Mrs. Patmore to keep her job with this disabling situation (cataracts) because she was known and respected, even if not liked. But this situation can teach us what not to do. Typically, poor social behavior and a increasingly debilitating health condition that hurts your performance are a recipe for job loss.
So, unless you have a skill that's nearly impossible to replace or unless you have an employer who can't bear to fire anyone, like Lord Grantham, take your cues from Mr. Bates.
Rosalind Joffe built on her experience living with chronic illnesses for over 30 years, including multiple sclerosis and ulcerative colitis, when she founded ciCoach.com . This unique career coaching firm is dedicated to helping people with chronic illness who care about their work lives develop the skills they need to succeed.