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An Advisor At Work


Without an advisor you will have to figure things out on your own at work without the benefit of experience or a sounding board to help you figure out what is best for you.

An advisor can help you create, and change, a strategy to fit ever changing circumstances.

Among people to consider, look at people in Human Resources and people in an Employee Assistance Program.

Do not just pick an advisor randomly. Who you choose is important.

Step 1. Decide on what factors to look for in an advisor. When deciding on an advisor, whether it's someone with whom you already have a relationship or not, consider the following.

  • Secrecy
    • It is of the utmost importance that the person in whom you confide can keep a secret.
    • Employers must keep health information confidential. There is no such obligation for co-workers. Even if the person is in management, since your discussions are informal, there may not be any obligation to keep the information confidential.
    • You want to feel free to tell that person about the reality of your health condition and to discuss the alternatives you're considering without worrying that the information will get into the wrong hands. You'll also want to be able to explore in confidence issues such as taking time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) deciding when to go on disability, and getting the most out of your benefits if you stop working. You may even want to discuss how you can maximize your earnings while you continue to work, with perhaps less time at work.
    • For more information, see our article about Real Earnings.
  • Status
    • The person should know about the inner workings of the company. Ideally, he or she also has the power to make things happen for you, such as helping you get an accommodation (a change in your work because of your health condition and/or treatment to help you do your job.). For more information, see Negotiating An Accommodation.
  • A person in Human Resources
    • Everything else being equal, someone in Human Resources is likely to have a better idea from their experience about what can and cannot be done with regard to benefits and accommodations. If a person in HR doesn't know an answer, he or she can find out without pressure to reveal your identity or plans.
    • As helpful as an HR person can be, don't assume that he or she will put your interests ahead of your mutual employer's interest. He or she is more likely to look for a balance.
  • A person with a health condition
    • Another factor to consider is whether there is a potential advisor who has had your health condition, or one similar to it. In addition to knowing the company workings, such a person is likely to understand what you are going through as well as your needs. Don't forget, however, that just because another person has or had a similar health condition doesn't make the person an expert on the situation, the employer, or your benefits package.
  • Someone who will be around for the long term
    • It would also be helpful if the person is likely to continue with the company after you leave so s/he can keep you up-to-date on changes in your health insurance or in other benefits that may affect you. S/he will also keep you up-to-date on changes in the workplace so you're current if you are able to return to work. See Returning to Work for more on this subject.
  • Other factors to consider
    • Whether the person could gain from your leaving the company.
    • Whether the person might be close with someone who could be viewed as a rival to you at work.
    • Whether the person might have a management directive that may be against your interest, such a directive to trim payroll.
    • Whether the person is so "company oriented" that s/he might not provide objective information and/or advice.

Step 2. Create a list of potential candidates.

Step 3. Spend some time observing each candidate. Make a point of visiting with each person regularly to confirm your opinion before asking one to advise you.

Step 4. Think about how to start the conversation with your potential advisor

  • Once you identify a person with whom to speak, we recommend that you ask up-front, very straight forward and clearly, something like, "I'm dealing with an issue that I need to ask someone about who really knows this company well. You've been here for a long time, and I think you could help me. However, it involves some information that I really don't want circulated around the (company) (office) (factory) (etc.) Would you be willing to advise me, and not feel uncomfortable about keeping this confidential, even from management as well as co-workers?"
  • Look for a positive, straightforward reply, not one with hedges or qualifiers.
  • If you are not comfortable with the reply, postpone further discussion and re-think your choice. You need a solid ally, not someone who is a reluctant team member.

Once you have an advisor, keep in touch.

  • Treat him or her like a team member, but keep the relationship on a business basis. 
  • Let the person make any overtures about spending time together socially outside the office.
  •  Periodically check in with your advisor to keep him or her to date.
  • Make sure your advisor knows how much you appreciate him or her – not just when s/he says “yes” to your request, but on an ongoing basis.

If you begin to experience a problem in the workplace, do not wait until it becomes a real problem. Speak with your advisor right away.

While you're looking around, also look for a co-worker who is or who has been on disability. Information is golden.

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