Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Q. I have recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I want to continue working, but I do not know how to raise it with my boss.

It's great you are considering carrying on at work. There is no reason why you should not - and every reason why you should.

The first point to make is that you should be aware that you are not obliged to declare or discuss your condition with your employer unless the symptoms could constitute a health and safety risk.

The Disability Discrimination Act makes it unlawful for employers to disadvantage employees on the basis of their disabilities, so they must make "reasonable adjustments" to help those with disabilities continue in their roles.

In your case, adjustments could include flexible working, such as avoiding peak travel times. Anything you think would benefit you most in balancing work with your condition ought to be considered. But that does mean you will have to discuss this with your boss.

Remember, though, that talented people are scarce, so your employer should be eager to help as much as possible. I hope he or she will be able to view you through your abilities and not through your new disability. You have key skills and knowledge, which would be lost if you left. And if you do, the organisation then has to recruit someone else, which always carries costs.

Many Acevo members have signed up to a useful employee assistance programme, which provides external advice to staff on a range of work and personal issues. Check if you have such a scheme.

My strong advice would be to make sure you have got the confidence to do this. You will need to come to terms with what you can and cannot do.

Going back to work will be a helpful and stabilising influence, so get some advice and consider how you will tackle this with your boss.

You will need to be aware of your own limits in terms of the illness and how it will affect you, both mentally and physically. If you have a mentor, talk this through with them. One of Acevo's members, the Multiple Sclerosis Society, has produced an information booklet about working with MS. You can contact the society at info@mssociety.org.uk, or visit its website at www.mssociety.org.uk.

There are, of course, many other third-sector bodies involved in helping people with long-term illnesses of debilitation.

There is every reason why you should go back to work, so talk through how the organisation can help you to carry on in your post. And remember the marvellous example of the chair of the Charity Commission, Geraldine Peacock. We are all lost in admiration at how effective she is in her role despite having to cope with the demands and constraints of living with Parkinson's Disease.

Stephen Bubb, chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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