My Illness Isn’t Your Excuse

Inspired by far too many conversations in the last year, please don’t tell someone who’s ill or in recovery “I would hire you for my project, but I want you to concentrate on getting better.” That’s such a horribly cruel thing to say to someone.

Sure, I recognize what’s trying to be emphasized is “get better,” but that’s not what’s actually being said. If you say that, you’re saying:

  • “I don’t trust you enough to work with you.”
  • “If only you’d kept quiet about your illness, I’d be rewarding you right now.”
  • “I know better what you need than you or your doctor do.”

If you care about the person, try this instead: “I’m thinking about you for X. Do you have the bandwidth to handle it?” Note I didn’t use “have the bandwidth to handle it while you’re sick?”

I know some of you are thinking “But Ryan, what if they say ‘yes’ but really don’t?” Welcome to working with people. Plenty of people whose illnesses aren’t publicly known will overestimate their time or energy, and are unintentionally misleading you when they take on work. There’s nothing special when it comes to the vocally sick—in fact, when you’re working with someone who regularly expresses their illness issues, you know you’re not working with someone who is going to hide that from you.

After all, the only real difference between someone who talks with you or the public about being ill and someone who is ill but doesn’t talk about it: the latter has to spend more energy keeping issues quiet.

Now, if you genuinely don’t trust someone “because they’re sick”—which really means you just don’t trust them, and their illness is a convenient excuse or self-deception—and you need a white lie to make rejection seem easier, here’s another: “I don’t have any work right now.”

But please, if you actually care about someone, don’t tell them their illness is the reason you’re not giving them work.



One Response to My Illness Isn’t Your Excuse

  1. Paul Tevis says:

    Yeah, one of my rules in hiring interviews at work is “I’m not going to make decisions for this person.” When I get questions like “Will this person be able to handle the commute?” or “Will they accept the potential change in status from their last job?” my response is “That’s up to them to figure out, not me.” I believe in treating people like adults.