Let employees know what's going on. Keep information flowing. Once an employee tells you about his or her illness, ask permission to inform co-workers. The sooner the staff knows what's going on, the better. People usually resent having to pick up the slack if they're not told why they're being asked to do more.
Hold group meetings. When an employee suffers a serious illness, it can trigger a range of intense feelings among co-workers. Create an open climate in which co-workers brainstorm about ways to keep the work on schedule and how to assist the ill employee.
Choose a contact person. When an employee misses a lot of work due to his or her illness, expect a lot of well-intentioned talk around the water cooler. To prevent this, select a central contact person who agrees to relay updates on how the individual is progressing. Making this an official duty also may help an ill worker's close co-worker cope with the situation.
Become an internal advocate. Your employees will watch closely to see how you respond to a seriously [or terminally] ill worker. A good way to send a message of support is to serve as an outspoken advocate on behalf of the ill employee. Examples: Let your [employees] know that you're lobbying to enact new policies that will help the employee, or that you're suggesting to the company's chief executive that a charitable fund be established in the name of the employee.
SOURCE: WorkingSMART Newsletter, March 1997, published by the McLean, Virginia-based National Institute of Business Management
Workforce, May 1997, Vol. 76, No. 5, p. 64.