I broke my leg, and my team barely acknowledged it — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I’m a high-performing individual contributor in a small firm that is 100% remote. Our company culture really prioritizes teammate health: we put our therapy appointments on our calendar, take calls from the gym, and offer to pitch in for colleagues when they’re sick or just need bandwidth to deal with personal issues. I’m grateful for this culture and I’m the first to volunteer to support my teammates when they need it.

A few months ago, I broke my leg in an accident. It was a pretty severe fracture that required emergency surgery and I couldn’t bear weight for two months after.

My manager, who is normally wonderful and kind, was nonplussed when I told her what happened, saying, “Well, I guess we’ll figure it out.” I also notified my team in our all-hands Slack channel, and all of my teammates acknowledged the message and sent their well-wishes at the time. We have unlimited PTO, so it wouldn’t have been an issue to take time off, but it was our busy season and I felt like the optics wouldn’t be great — I don’t really need my leg to do my job, I wasn’t on major painkillers, and I could do 99% of my job from my bed.

So I put my head down and pushed through it. I felt it would be better to stay off camera during meetings (since I couldn’t shower for four weeks until my incision healed, and being highly polished is expected in our sector). I let everyone know in advance and made sure to make my voice and chat interactions as warm as possible to compensate. I ended up having a strong quarter and met every KPI and exceeded some, all to glowing reviews from my clients on our year-end survey. As soon as I could take a shower at four weeks, I was back on camera from there on out.

Still, I felt like my team didn’t take my injury and recovery into account. I realize that jumping right back into work probably made it seem like I was completely fine, but in reality, I was recovering from surgery and my mental health was really suffering. I communicated what I needed when I needed it, but I also didn’t receive any proactive outreach from my team about how I was doing or what they could take off my plate. It also became apparent that multiple colleagues did not realize the extent of what happened. Two examples out of many:

• A teammate planned an optional team-building bowling night. When I shared with the organizer that I’d love to come but I couldn’t make it with everything going on, she said, “I’m sorry, I had no idea!” I work very closely with this teammate and spend hours in meetings with her every week.

• Once I was weight-bearing but still in a boot, a different coworker asked if I could walk to a coffee shop near my house to meet a client who was going to be in the neighborhood for the day. When I asked my coworker if it would be okay if I drove and expensed my parking, since walking that far in my boot was difficult, he said, “No problem, but wait, what happened? Why are you in a boot?”

I’m struggling to understand what I could have done differently here, or why I feel so irked by this. I know that everyone is incredibly busy with their own lives and aren’t always thinking about me, but this total blanking feels misaligned with our culture. This is the same team that sent me flowers when I had a very mild case of Covid last year!

Flash forward to today: my leg is healed, but I’m now working from my hometown for a few weeks taking care of my dad as he recovers from a complicated surgery and my grandmother is dying. I’ve shared this series of unfortunate events with my manager — who gave her explicit approval for this accommodation request — and with my team, but it’s still not registering. “You have a new background! Where are you?”

I’ve done everything I can think of to communicate with my team. But I’m concerned that my colleagues can tell that I’m not at my usual 100% right now and aren’t putting the pieces together as to what’s behind that. I feel like I’m squeaking by trying to keep my head above water, and not receiving the same grace and support that other colleagues get in their own tough personal situations. How do I proceed from here? Am I out of line for feeling disappointed and unmotivated?

You’re not out of line for feeling disappointed, but I think your expectations aren’t entirely realistic.

You’re 100% remote so people weren’t seeing your cast (and then boot) every day. In fact, they weren’t seeing it at all. They heard the news in the beginning and processed it, and then it almost certainly got pushed out of their minds by other things after that. That doesn’t mean they’re not sympathetic, but it’s really common for people not to keep this kind of detail about others in the front of their minds unless they actually see it in front of them on a regular basis.

Also, a lot of people don’t realize what a big deal a broken leg can be. A zillion years ago I broke my foot, couldn’t put any weight on it for three months, had a bunch of complications, and months later had to essentially learn to walk all over again. It was a massive, impossible-to-ignore thing in my life for almost a year; it affected everything I did. But other people heard “broken foot” and thought, “Oh, sounds like a hassle” and then wouldn’t give it much thought after that — unless they were right there with me seeing how it affected everything. And that’s pretty normal!

You pointed out that you work closely with your coworkers and spend in hours in meetings with some of them each week. But they’re not spending hours with your leg or seeing its impact on you in-person; you’re remote so they’re spending those hours with your face and your brain, and they’re not seeing the whole picture. The parts of you they’re coming in contact with are the you as they’ve always known you.

The thing with your manager not remembering that you’re working from your hometown while taking care of your dad and grandmother is similar — she’s caught up in the press of day-to-day work and not keeping it front of mind that you’re somewhere else. To you it feels like, “How could you not remember that this horrible thing is going on that I’ve uprooted my life for?” But while this is affecting your life in significant ways, it’s not unusual for other people not to focus on it the same way, because you’re still showing up in their days the same way you always have (just with a different background this time).

You said you feel like you’re not receiving the same grace and support that other colleagues get in their own tough situations. If there are specific things you want/need, you should spell those out explicitly (whether it’s a temporarily lower workload or whatever would help). But if it’s more that you just want to feel like your coworkers remember what’s going on with you — and not that you want specific accommodations made — well … it’s not an unreasonable thing to want, but I think it’s a little unrealistic about human nature. I suspect if you asked for any specific help, they’d be happy to give it to you … but because you’re physically removed and your time together is focused on work rather than your lives, it’s really common for people’s focus to be elsewhere.

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