For many survivors looking to return to work after cancer, the traditional, full-time nine-to-five job isn’t necessarily going to be the right fit. You may still be recovering from treatment, you may not have enough energy to withstand a long commute every day, or maybe your priorities have changed and you no longer want to work all the time. If any of these is the case, you might want to consider alternative work options. This article explores a number of them.
Part-time work can allow you to undergo treatment or cope with lingering side effects as needed during the day. People often string together two or more part-time jobs to create more financial stability and/or explore their creative side. For example, after working in an office in the morning, you might head to a job at an art gallery in the afternoon or to a band gig at night.
Gauge your energy level — but think beyond it.
If two part-time jobs seem like too much, you might want to look for a single part-time job, at least until your stamina improves. However, try not to evaluate what kind of part-time job (or jobs) work for you based solely on your current energy stores. Often, energy increases over time; so you should factor into your decision that potential future gain.
Think of what your needs are — not just a paycheck, but also flexibility, benefits and fulfillment. Beware: One danger of part-time work is that it can quickly “morph” into full-time work. You have to be clear from the start about what is expected of you in terms of output and hours.
Get creative with the possibilities, but stay realistic.
“Part-time” doesn’t necessarily mean working four hours at the company location, five days a week. Ask about flexible hours. For instance, if you’re due to go in for chemo, you might work eight hours one day and take the next day off. Ask about working from home at least some of the days. This could allow you to lie low in your own room or den while you work if you’re feeling depleted after a treatment, then return to the office environment as you regain strength. As the work environment continues to evolve, it’s also possible that you’ll be able to find a part-time job (or jobs) that are entirely home-based. Remote-work jobs run the gamut these days; they’re no longer limited to things like telemarketing, writing/editing or customer service care. Many jobs that used to require people to be on-site in an office can now be done from home or elsewhere. (FYI: If you’re considering a remote-work position, it’s wise to first check with your accountant about payment arrangements and deductible expenses.)
Before you consider a part-time job that is entirely home-based, be honest with yourself about whether you’ll be able to resist the urge to turn on the television, finish reading the book you’re into or scroll through Instagram
Think about the isolation of an at-home job, too, and if you can handle it. That’s an especially crucial question if you live alone.
Contract Work or Freelancing
As an independent contractor or freelancer, you provide services for a company (usually for a specific project or period of time). You may even juggle two or three contract assignments for different companies at the same time. Freelancers and independent contractors are considered self-employed by the Internal Revenue Service and are therefore subject to self-employment tax in addition to federal and state income taxes. Benefits such as health insurance are rarely offered to freelancers.
Contract work is a fast-growing area, as it saves employers a lot of money in benefits. Be sure the terms of your contract are straightforward and in writing. Consider whether the company will pay expenses such as transportation to meetings, postage, etc.; if not, be sure to factor them into your fees.
Also worth noting is that contract work or freelancing is often a gateway to future full-time work at a company. If a part-time or full-time staff position opens up and you want it, you may have an advantage, given that the organization already knows your work.
Add up the pros and cons.
Among the obvious advantages of part-time work is the reduction in hours. That can be especially valuable if you’re going through chemo or other fatiguing treatments, or are on your way to recovery but not quite back to 100%.
If you plan to apply for a couple of part-time jobs, consider the total hours as well as the total pay. Do they add up to the same amount of time and money as if you were working one full-time job? Can you handle that much work right now? If both jobs are on-site, that would mean two separate commutes, which might be an added strain.
Getting back to work, especially if it’s a part-time position in which you’re on-site and have human contact, can lift your spirits. It’s hard to assign a dollar value to that.
On the other hand, if your money situation is the paramount issue right now, you should figure in the cost savings of working from home in terms of things like commuting, lunches out and dry cleaning.
Remember that if you are transitioning from a full-time job at a company to a part-time position at the same company, and you had a group healthcare plan available only to full-time employees, you may qualify for COBRA. COBRA is a federal law that allows you to continue your group health benefits for a limited period of time. There are key things you need to do to ensure you can avail yourself of COBRA. For more information, visit www.dol.gov.
The 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) has also made it easier for people who don’t qualify for health insurance through their jobs to buy a plan through a health insurance marketplace, even if they have a pre-existing condition.
Switching to a part-time job (or jobs) from full-time work can stall your career progress — but not always. Some parents reduce work hours while raising young children, then return to full-time; so the concept of a freelance or part-time interlude in a serious career is not as foreign to employers as it used to be.
Before accepting several part-time assignments, consider whether you will be able to multi-task. You may have several to-do lists, depending on what job you have at the moment. Part-timers are often used as fill-in people, so you could find yourself working for more than one boss. You might also be switched to different assignments as other workers take medical or family leave, go on vacation, or leave the company altogether.
Multi-tasking on its own is challenging for many people, but coupled with treatment side effects, multi-tasking can be complicated even for a master. “Chemo brain,” in particular, can cause memory lapses and difficulty concentrating, which can result in problems remembering names or the spelling of common words, a temporary inability to think as fast as you once did, or difficulty recalling the steps of tasks you once performed easily. Under these circumstances, a role that requires a lot of multi-tasking can seem overwhelming. There are things you can do to stay organized, such as writing down everything in one notebook instead of in multiple places; prioritizing to-do lists; doing one thing at a time; etc. But you should think about whether multiple jobs will require too much multi-tasking.
Finding a Flexible Job After Cancer
Now is a better time than ever to consider work flexibility, because there are multiple trends pushing for it in the workplace — things such as health and work-life balance, economic and environmental benefits, and many others. The important thing is that, thanks to these combined factors, employers across the board are finally beginning to listen to calls/demands for greater flexibility.
This doesn’t mean every company is keen on flexibility (at least not yet), but it does mean that more and more are realizing that nontraditional positions involving remote work and part-time and flexible schedules can save them money while benefiting employees. Flexible jobs are more widespread than most people think.
More and more companies are allowing their employees to work from home — or from someplace other than a traditional office. For cancer patients and survivors, working remotely either full-time or part-time can have many advantages. For example, eliminating a long and draining commute can mean more personal time (and more stamina) during the day. Not having to travel via public transportation or work in a crowded, potentially germ-filled office could help protect your immune system. And being in an environment with fewer people and less noise could also make it easier to concentrate, which can be helpful if chemo brain is impacting your ability to focus. Another point worth noting is that if you’re having trouble finding a position that matches your particular skillset in your local job market, the option for remote work could enable you to take a job with a company in another city.
Whether you are new to remote work or have done it before, searching for these kinds of roles could increase your chances of landing the job you want. Below are some key things to keep in mind:
Your current employer may be your first and best option for remote work
If you have already proven yourself to be a valuable member of the team, your boss may be more apt to approve your proposal to transition from in-office to remote work. If you plan to pitch the idea to your current employer, be sure to do so from the perspective of the benefits it will afford the company, such as continuity of work and productivity. Emphasize how you will continue to contribute on a daily basis to the organization’s work, despite not being on-site. Being ready to compromise by agreeing to attend certain in-person meetings and visit customer sites as needed, or to accept a hybrid schedule that blends on-site and remote work, may help persuade your current employer to embrace the concept. Keep in mind that many companies already offer remote work options, so be sure to check your employee manual or policies and procedures document to see if anything exists in your organization. Remote work might also be approved as a possible reasonable accommodation, assuming you are eligible for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or your state's fair employment law. reasonable accommodation request under the ADA.
To land your new work-from-home job, you may have to apply your skills in new ways.
Examine your skills and capabilities, then carefully match them to work-from-home opportunities you find. You may have to research skills most in demand by firms seeking virtual or telecommuting workers, then revise your resume/cover letter to highlight the ones you possess.
Beware of the work-from-home Internet scams!
It’s important to know that a legitimate employer will never charge you a fee to work for them or ask you to do anything that is legally questionable. Always research a potential employer, just as an employer would check your references. Websites such as Better Business Bureau (BBB), Glassdoor and Indeed can provide further insight into some companies.
Set up your workspace to support your needs
The way you set up your desk can help you stay focused while you work, which can be particularly helpful if you are experiencing chemo brain. Decluttering your work surface helps to minimize distractions, and organizing your files can help you stay on task. Similarly, making sure that supplies and equipment are easily accessible can eliminate undue exertion if you are experiencing fatigue. Also, you’ll want to be sure that your setup isn’t merely comfortable in the moment but also supports your physical health in the long run. This can be especially important if you don’t have a desk and instead are sitting in bed or on the couch with your laptop. For more tips on setting yourself up for remote success, click here.
Establish ground rules and boundaries with your family, friends and even pets regarding your work.
Pre-determine your work hours, if possible, and let people know when you are not to be disturbed. If you are working with young children in the home, think ahead and schedule conference calls and virtual meetings while they are sleeping or occupied with a favorite TV show or game, or when there is someone else there to watch them. Dog owners will also have to arrange phone call options so that they are not interrupted by barking. And be aware that email and typed proposals can easily be erased by little cat paws strolling across the computer keys.
Consider whether you need additional equipment.
Are there certain supplies and equipment that might help you work better and more efficiently when you’re remote? For example, would an ergonomic keyboard alleviate some discomfort from neuropathy? Do you need more supportive seating? Would a rolling chair make it easier for you to step away from your desk to take a break? Maybe a second monitor or an external keyboard and mouse for your laptop would be useful. Keep in mind that you may be able to request specific pieces of equipment from your employer as a reasonable accommodation, if you are entitled to receive reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even if the remote-work arrangement itself was approved as a reasonable accommodation, you still might be eligible for additional accommodations, such as equipment. You would follow the same process you did when requesting the original accommodation and work with your employer to identify other modifications that would address the side effects you’re experiencing. It’s also possible that some employers will simply provide you with certain supplies to enhance your work-from-home setup.
Establish boundaries with anyone who shares your workspace
If you share your remote-work area with others — whether family or friends/roommates — communicating with them about your work/life boundaries is important. Setting clear boundaries helps define time, roles, work relationships and expectations. That, in turn, can enable you to work efficiently and sustainably, leading to greater productivity and less stress. For example, if you need to use a common area in your home to take an important call or host a virtual meeting, be sure the people who share that space are aware ahead of time of that need/schedule and when it’s ok (or not) to disturb you. If you find there are too many audio or visual distractions, you might want to consider using noise-canceling headphones or a room divider.
Set limits on your work time
For some people, one of the challenges of working remotely is that they end up putting in more hours than when they’re on-site. Not having to commute means that some people sit down at their desk earlier and work later than they would if they had to catch a train home, for example. Also, because there is often no real physical separation between home and work, the official end of the workday can become fuzzy. Physically removing yourself from the space where you work (both during and at the end of your workday) is critical. If you’re able to take a break at some point — whether that means meditating, stretching, flipping through a magazine or going for a brief walk — be sure to do it somewhere else. Then, when you’re finished with your work, establish a way to leave your “office” — whether that’s by moving to another room and closing the door or by simply hiding your work laptop from view. Separating your work life from your personal life will give your brain a rest, help reduce stress and decrease the potential for burnout — especially if you are also dealing with side effects from treatment..