Invisible disability: Good employers and bad employers

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.

Invisible disability: good employers and bad employers

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.

Good employer:

  • 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.

Bad employers

  • 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.

I recommend

  • 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.

Related posts:

Illness and work: hit myself in the feels

Acceptance of work limitations

Making life shine without work

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10 comments

  1. This is by far the BEST thing I’ve read in a very long time. Maybe ever! Thank you for sharing your experience, and for sharing what a good employer NEEDS to do for all their employees. I’ve had some horrific managers, I’ve also had some really wonderful ones. Right now, I’m at a job that may not fit me…but I’m really trying to give it a little more time. Because this situation isn’t necessarily the managers, well…maybe one of them…but an employee causing me more grief than I should have to put up with. Anyways, I just wanted to thank you for an article VERY WELL DONE!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I so appreciate your post! I worked for the same place for over 20 years, I was A child care teacher and director. I got the first job after this, quickly, at a community college! I had not started walking with a cane yet. As soon as I started working there I realized that I had more mobility issues than I thought. I had worked at the same place for so long that I had everything down to a science. Plus I had worked with children that were three years old and up. Therefore, they were not needing to be carried etc. I now was substitute teacher in a program that had children from two years old to six. It was also a much larger program too. So even without M.S. it would have been an adjustment. None the less, I did adjust and felt that my abilities certainly outweighed my disabilities.
    My surprise was after working an entire school year, nearly full time. I volunteered to work the summer and was told that because the program went down to one classroom, I would probably not be needed very much. I did receive one call and did work.
    The next fall I called my director several times, letting her know that I was anxious to go to work. I was given the excuse that they weren’t in need as of yet. I suggested that I would be happy to do any filing or office duties they might need. I finally called again, and the director informed me that she thought they might have an office position for me! I was thrilled, as it was in a related department that focused on educating child care workers, and providing required annual courses needed to be in a licensed facility. This was something I had been wanting to get into, realizing my changing mobility. I felt like it was a dream come true! My co-workers were so kind and supportive! They didn’t want me to be overwhelmed by the knew responsibilities. Heck, I had to prod them to let me do more than answer the phone. I did get to learn a program to enroll students in required classes as well as answering licensing questions. I felt that surprised my co-workers with how much I did know. After all, I had been a director for 5 years! Well, just as I was really getting into the swing of things, after about a month, my boss called me into her office late one afternoon and informed me that the grant for this job was ending! She explained that they would be posting another higher level position and that I would be welcome to reapply. She told me that it would be fine if i didn’t want to stay and put in the final too weeks. I said that I would put in the two weeks, I was hopefully for the new position.
    As soon as the job was posted, I immediately applied, then proceeded with the waiting game for several months until the posting was up. I stupidly did not look for another position because this was what I really wanted to do, and felt that I had shown them that I could do the job, even if I had to badger them to be taught anything! I guess I should have realized what was happening. I was just being scooted out the door. I finally received a response about the job 4 months later. I was thanked for my interest and although I met the qualifications, I would not even receive an interview.
    So, here I sit, 2 months later. Still no job. Every time I walk in with my cane, I see the look. I interview well, have all the qualifications, but still seem to get the apologetic look as I go out the door.
    So frustrated and disappointed.
    Thank you for letting me vent! It was cathartic if nothing else.:0)
    Still Smiling!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have seen it happen to many people. I and someone I know were shuffled down to part time because we were sick. The other girl could not stand it where they send here and got laid off. I ended up on disability just due to health decline

      Like

      1. That may eventually happen. It is frustrating when you feel like you could still be in the work place, yet know one will give you a chance. My prayers to you, and thank you for your blog.💗

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent points to be considering, Nikki. I think this is where the whole raising-awareness aspect can be an incredible source for positive change (I’ve written this in my post for the awareness week which I’ll hopefully publish later) – more employers need to be aware of invisible disabilities, to have procedures in place to protect and help their staff, offer more flexible working opportunities, etc. Great post!
    Caz xx

    Liked by 1 person

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