You know I have worked for the same company for 14 years and I have in that time declined consistently in physical and mental health. So that means, leaves of absence, presenteeism and absenteeism. I am not a dependable or reliable employee despite my ambition and strong work ethic. And I have had managers that made things considerably worse and I have had managers that made things considerably better in that span of time.
I believe Strongly in disability and invisible disability training and coaching for managers and employers and employees. And I think that lack of that causes some serious problems.
Let’s start with the good. My last manager was a good man and he tried to accommodate me to the best of his ability (aside from an ergonomic office due to very poor planning on whoever designed the place making it quite impossible). I was in poor health and declining fast at that point… so nothing was helping me. Nothing would have helped me. And sometimes that is why we become disabled and unable to work… it just is not feasible anymore. Maybe in the future, you never know. But sometimes we cannot work. I was at that point and then I got worse… so now I am on disability. But he a) let me wear migraine specs in the office (tinted specs), he gave me a part-time role when I could no longer work full-time, and he specifically arranged my schedule so that I worked later in the day as well as one day on, one day off cycle. All of these helped in their way, just in the end, we cannot predict a turndown in our health.
- Asks you what accommodations would help you succeed in your work
- Implements those accommodations
- Motivates you to succeed
- Checks in with you to see if any adjustments need to be made
- Does not make you feel guilty, powerless, pressured to push beyond your capacity
- Does not discriminate against you because of your disability
- Understands not all disabilities can be seen
- Understands the mental wellbeing of his employees is important
- Creates a productive and encouraging environment for everyone to work in
And my manager was all those things. And I truly wish he had been my manager at the beginning of my work with that company. Maybe things would have been different. One never knows, eh? But I do wish my health had not tanked while there… because I could have succeeded in that environment
Now I have experienced bad managers as well. And I won’t personally say much about it because it seems unfair to the company as a whole. But I will say as a result my health declined fast and my mental health tanked. And I almost died… by my own hand, because I was trying so hard and pushing so hard and given an ultimatum that I could not achieve and could not try stopping to achieve anyway. Partly, I am to blame for not standing up for myself when the discrimination occurred. When some things were done that were illegal. And if I were the person I am now, back then, someone would have been sued for those illegal actions but only if HR and the company did not resolve the issue. Partly I am to blame for believing I had to push beyond my limits, which made me worse and then blaming myself for being worse.
- Hostile work environment… for everyone. This leads to low morale and a high turn over rate as people just try to escape… but some of us couldn’t and it harmed us all.
- Not providing any accommodation because people with invisible disabilities ‘do not have a real disability’
- Pressure the employee with an invisible disability to ‘push through’
- Never motivating or encouraging to staff such that only the negative is highlighted. So no one ever feels like they are doing a good job… ever.
- Giving ultimatums to someone who isn’t able to function
- Does not comprehend the mental health of their employees is also important
- Punishes you by demotion, wages, for being chronically ill
- Tells you you are literally the weakest link in the company and if lay-off occurs… you will go down first because you are sick.
- Makes you feel ashamed, guilty, worthless for not being able to achieve perfection but offers no assistance or things that can be done to help you succeed.
I started working there with migraines and fibromyalgia. And I worked well and hard and felt good about it. But then that environment began to take a massive toll. Migraines were chronic when I started (more than 15 a month) but they became daily and then they became every moment of every single day. And then my mood tanked. And then depression kicked in. And then suicidal ideation fantasies kicked in. Lot of factors in that process of course. Pain is pain. It is hard to cope with when working. And a lot harder when it becomes completely unmanaged. It still hurts, what happened there. I think it really broke me. And I think I carried the trauma of being broken like that for a very long time after that. And I think only now do I see how much it impacted me long-term. But it wasn’t just me. A lot of people got worse mentally and emotionally there. I just had relentless pain to make it a literal living nightmare.
I now believe strongly in good work environments knowing the damage of a hostile one can cause to a person. I mean literally every person. But particularly when you are coping with a disability. A good environment can help you thrive with a disability. A bad one… will make your health worse and crush you mentally and emotionally. And that is precisely the opposite of what someone living with a disability needs to cope and manage their disability. We end up in a hell that just never ends. And one we cannot dig ourselves out of because the pain and illness get so severe under those conditions we never get to a point where our health is managed. We are constantly struggling to keep up with our declining health and we never can. We become unable to work. And we get punished for that too.
- Value accommodation for your employees. If a person with a disability can have certain accommodations… those can vastly improve our ability to cope and be productive. And we want to be productive.
- Help your employees thrive in all ways
- Understand the overall wellbeing of your employees is important… not just results
- Get training on working with people with all sorts of different disabilities, be they visible or not.
- Bring someone in to talk to your staff about working with disability and disability discrimination.
- Learn about the stigma of disabilities so that you do not fall into stigmatizing your employee or tolerate that behaviour in other employees
- It is not your job to offer suggestions for their health or criticize it. It is your job to make it possible for them to be as productive as they can be and offer solutions if they become sicker and need more assistance in the office. (change schedules, flex work, work from home sometimes, go down to part-time… and understand those changes may not be permanent, but necessary for a decline in health)
- Never, ever punish someone for having to go on medical leave for any reason at all. Do not demote them when they return. Do not restrict their ability to progress with their career. Do not make them feel guilty for the time they needed. Just Do Not punish them for that. If you do, you are blaming them for being ill and making them feel that.
And some companies do so well in the overall wellbeing of every staff member. Some do not give a shit. But the models that work should be encouraged in the workplace because we all need to manage our wellbeing. And we spend more time at work than at home… it should be a healthy environment
I have spent more than half my life with pain and illness. And I have worked with it as well. I have pushed through when I should not have. And I have worked with employers who genuinely care about their employees such that it helped me manage due to their considerations for my needs. And now I know not to stay anywhere that doesn’t value their employees. Not worth the price you have to pay for it. But if I were in the situation, trust me on this, HR would be deeply involved. Because I have no tolerance left for people who do not value their employees and create a good, healthy work environment. Some people are ignorant and they need to be educated. And if nothing changes? Leave. Run as fast as humanly possible. The one lesson we know with disability is that our overall wellbeing is vital to coping with our illness. We work hard to nurture that in our lives. And we shouldn’t have to endure hell at work. It really affects our health. And that is never worth it. That is what I learned from the hell I went through. It was not worth the price I had to pay… and they did not. I beg anyone enduring a bad work environment to not tolerate it and get out if needed. Our lives are more important than that.
Some of us Have to work. Disability payments are below a living wage and that can be impossible for many people. No one wants that financial hell. We shouldn’t feel like we should be punished for working… and punished for not working.