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 the 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 should think about alternative work options. This section explores a number of them.
Part-time work can allow you to seek 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. After working in an office in the morning, you might head out to an art gallery job in the evening, or a band gig at night.
Gauge your energy level — but think beyond it.
If two part-time jobs seem like too much, maybe you should seek a single part-time job, at least until your stamina increases. However, try not to evaluate what kind of part-time job (or jobs) work for you solely based 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 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 study while you work if you’re feeling depleted after a treatment, then return to the office environment as you regain strength. You may be able to find a part-time job (or jobs) that are entirely home-based. Work-at-home jobs run the gamut these days. They could involve telemarketing, Internet work, editing, writing or customer care, to name a few. (It’s wise to check with your accountant about payment arrangements and deductible expenses before accepting a homebased position.)
Before you consider a part-time job that is entirely home-based, be honest: Can you resist the urge to switch on the television, catch up on reading or linger over Facebook?
Think about the isolation of an at-home job, too, and whether you can handle it. That’s an especially crucial question if you live alone. And if you have young children, you may need someone to watch them while you work, even if you are in your own house.
Contract Work or Freelancing
Under these arrangements, you work as an independent contractor, providing services for a company, usually for a specific project or time period. You are considered self-employed by the Internal Revenue Service and 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 big bucks 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.
Contract work or freelancing can be a gateway to future full-time work at a company. You might juggle two or three contract assignments for different companies. If a part-time or full-time staff position opens up and you want it, you may have an advantage in that the company 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 as much 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’s not only full-time hours but two different commutes, which might be an added strain.
Getting back to work, especially if it’s a part-time job in which you’re on-site and have human contact, can lift your spirits. That’s hard to assign a dollar value to.
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 the federal or their state’s marketplaces, even if they have a pre-existing condition. For more information on these marketplaces, click here.
Switching to a part-time job (or jobs) from full-time work can stall your career progress — but not always. Some moms and dads wind down work hours while raising young children, then return to fulltime; 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 go on leave or depart the company
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 telecommuting and part-time and flexible schedules can save them money while benefiting employees. Flexible jobs are more widespread than most people think.
Work From Home
Working from home does have many advantages. It usually allows you to set a reasonable schedule without the added time of a commute. It may allow you to work for a firm at a considerable distance from your home without having to relocate. It could help you land a job requiring special skills you have that are not needed in your local job market but are in great demand in another city. It provides an opportunity for tax deductions for equipment and supplies you use on the job (as long as the employer does not pick up the tab for those items). You may even be able to take an itemized home-office deduction. (To thoroughly understand your tax benefits as a freelance or home-based worker, you should consult with an accountant.) Most important, it usually gives you the flexibility you may need while in treatment and recovery from a serious illness such as cancer.
What types of work can be easily adapted to telecommuting or working from home? In the U.S. economy today, knowledge workers (i.e., those who rely on intellectual skills and activity rather than on their hands to generate a product) are particularly suited for telecommuting. The federal government is even getting into the act, encouraging telecommuting as a retention tool for its current workforce and as a recruiting benefit for new employees. Telecommuting is used by many employers to boost productivity, reduce employees’ commute time, and cut down on greenhouse-gas emissions caused by commuter traffic. Even traditional face-to-face jobs have expanded into the virtual world.
When considering the virtual option as a solution to juggling treatment or recovery and work, keep the following principles in mind:
Working from home is still work. It requires discipline, motivation, the right equipment, and a flexible and committed employer to sustain a work-from-home situation.
Your current employer may be your first and best option for a telecommuting job.
If you have already proven yourself to be a valuable member of the team, your boss is more apt to allow and support your proposal to telecommute. If you plan to broach the subject with your current employer, create a proposal or plan showing how you will continue to contribute daily to the organization’s work without regular face time. Approach this proposal from the perspective of the benefits it affords your employer, such as continuity of work and productivity gained by eliminating commute time. Being ready to compromise by committing to attend on-site meetings or visit customer sites as needed can help you persuade your current employer to embrace the concept. Also worth noting: Many companies offer telecommuting options, so first check your employee manual or policies and procedures document to see if anything exists at your organization. In addition, depending on the circumstances, telecommuting might be a possible reasonable accommodation request under the ADA. For more on reasonable accommodations, click here.
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 or ask you to do anything that is legally questionable. If an online job seems too good to be true, it probably is. Always check a potential employer’s references, just as an employer would check yours.
Get the right equipment for the job and set up your workplace in a professional manner.
Ideally a home office or spare room with a door is best if you plan to establish a boundary between your work life and home life. Use a high-speed Internet connection, a separate telephone line dedicated to your work, and a telephone headset. Be sure to record a professional voice-mail message on your work line, one that warmly greets customers and coworkers who call while you are unavailable. You may want to check out free conference-call bridge lines and Web-based meeting tools and sign up for Skype, to support the collaborative efforts your job may require. Create a work space that does not mingle your personal and professional papers, and you’ll find you are much more productive and less stressed during your workday.
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.
Set limits on your work time.
Many of the consultants who work virtually have difficulty separating their home life from their work life. They find themselves checking email at 11:00 PM or logging into the network and composing emails and proposals in the middle of the night when they can’t sleep. Guard against this “work-time creep” at all costs. There is nothing healing about working from home if you are doing it 24/7.
Plan social time away from work.
Working from home is an exciting option, but it can be more isolating than you’d imagine. Maintaining your social connections is vital to your recovery, so don’t neglect your friends, regardless of how seductive that computer can be.
If working virtually seems like the best option for you, you may want to view our list of flexible work resources. These sites offer articles, suggestions, products and job listings for the telecommuting/home-based worker.