When you’re having difficulty functioning, it may be time to take medical leave.
Many of the clients that I counsel in my private practice are having difficulty functioning at work. Often, they have worked themselves into exhaustion and are in burnout.
Most are high achievers that have found considerable success in their fields, largely because they are so dedicated to their work and committed to continuously doing well.
These clients are also conditioned to work long hours, take on intense workl
oads, and commit to deadlines others would consider unreasonable.
Workplace burnout often affects people who are idealists, perfectionists and workaholics.
They are often accustomed to working straight through lunch hour, eating at their desks, or stepping out for only a quick bite. Many believe they cannot take time out of their day for a break, and to recharge.
Know when to leave your desk.
When a person can no longer concentrate, can’t read, can’t pay attention in meetings, and can’t seem to hold a thought in their head or even formulate a required sentence, it is time for them to step away from their work.
These individuals say they can’t seem to get enough sleep, and have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
They say they used to love their work, but can’t remember why any more.
They say they’re afraid they will make a mistake with horrible ramifications.
They say they can’t move the work off their desks any more.
They say they can’t remember having had a conversation, or whether they have dealt with any issue yet or not.
When you are no longer being productive, you are in danger of damaging your professional reputation — and your career.
A person in burnout may need to go on medical leave to prevent inadvertently making a mistake that could cost their company dearly, or could endanger lives.
These individuals are at elevated risk for having a car accident. I hear stories from clients that are no more complicated than, “I hit a parked car.”
Sometimes, I meet with new clients that are completely bone weary. More often, however, I see people that are headed in this direction and need to take time away from their desks so they can recover, and not deteriorate further.
Some people gratefully accept the idea of taking medical leave.
When a person is receptive to taking a medical leave, I often write a letter to their physician, giving relevant background information and explaining why the person needs to be on medical leave.
I write these letters so that the physician has detailed information to support the request for leave. The letter is helpful because most medical appointments are too short for a physician to be able to gather and document this wealth of information themselves.
The physician can then provide a note for the client, typically addressed to the Human Resources Department at the person’s company, indicating that the physician has put the client on medical leave.
Some people resist the idea of taking medical leave.
Some people resist the idea of taking medical leave because they believe, rightly or wrongly, that they can’t step away from their job.
They readily admit they are exhausted but say they would first like to try to recover while remaining on the job. They say they would like to determine whether taking medical leave is absolutely necessary or not.
I meet these individuals where they are. I suggest they minimize their work hours as much as possible, and that they prioritize getting as much sleep as they can outside of the office.
I also suggest that they plan to take vacation time, away from work, as quickly as possible, and that they implement an exercise routine that they can maintain over the long-term.
Occasionally these strategies are successful, and a person can recover from burnout without taking leave. Other times, however, this approach doesn’t work, and the person accepts that they need to take medical leave to recover.
Medical leave can be more important than working.
I was taught to support the idea of someone taking medical leave from work when what they do on leave is more important than being at work.
More important tasks can include recovering from burnout, identifying why they were susceptible to burnout, and learning how to avoid burning out again in future.
When an person takes medical leave and works with a psychologist, their time away from the office can be very productive.
During this period, they can learn important self-care skills, including how to set effective boundaries.
When a person takes medical leave and doesn’t have the support of a psychologist, their leave may end without them being fully ready to return to their desk. This can be dangerous because the person may lose confidence in their ability to re-enter the work force successfully and may fail at their effort.
— Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta