Tag Archives: employers

Why I encourage talking about mental health at work

This year, Mental Health Awareness Week (14-20 May) is focusing on stressNot only can stressful work environments impact on your mental health, if you don’t feel supported, it makes things even harder.

Richard worked for years in a high pressure environment which sometimes made his OCD symptoms worse, but he carried on working, until the attitudes of his managers  made it impossible. Now Richard has set up his own company where he promotes a supportive work environment. In this blog, he shares his story.

I’ve experienced symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) since childhood, and was formally diagnosed at 25 whilst working as a producer at an independent production company in London.

Talking about my OCD never seemed like an option

Looking back, I think the moment to moment existence of being a freelancer, constantly having to think about your professional reputation in an environment with high staff turnover and time pressures, made talking about my OCD never seem like an option, although sometimes it could be hard to hide from colleagues.

I never took a day off sick, and if anything I think my OCD may have increased my work productivity as losing myself in work could be a distraction from my anxiety. But there is no doubt that being in high pressure work environment could make my symptoms more distressing, which impacted on my overall well being and personal happiness.

It was during this time that my symptoms intensified , I was experiencing intrusive thoughts and my obsessive behaviour escalated to point where even simple day to day tasks such as leaving the house were taking up to an hour to complete.

It felt as if I was at a point of crisis. I reached out to some close friends and with their support and encouragement  I eventually gained the confidence to visit my GP.

Throughout this, I was still going to work, I didn’t take a day off, and was doing my job.

Unless the ‘old Rich’ came back, my job would end

I lost insight into my OCD day by day and my anxiety levels continually rose.  I didn’t receive any support from my colleagues until one day when two of my senior managers asked to speak to me.

I was taken into a meeting room and told that they wanted the ‘old Rich’ back. Still terrified to admit I was unwell, I sat through the conversation not able to say a word. The conversation resulted in me being told that unless the ‘old Rich’ came back then my job would end.

There was no sense of compassion or concern, no observation that my behaviour could have been a symptom of my mental health, or that I could of been struggling and unwell. My contract shortly ended and I didn’t work at the company again, not that I wanted to.

Creating a supportive work environment

In 2010, a few years after this experience, I set up my own production company, along with a close friend. The pressure of that can sometimes exacerbate my symptoms but the reward and freedom, and having supportive colleagues that understand the realities of OCD and its impact, has been really valuable.

I think my experience with OCD may have contributed to the kind of work we now specialise in; human interest stories of challenge and triumph.

As an employer, I encourage openness, celebrate diversity and champion difference. I genuinely believe that we are all different, we all have our struggles and creating a supportive work environment not only enriches those we work with but also benefits the work we do.

Mental Health Awareness Week is a great time to talk about mental health and reduce the causes of work-related stress. If you’d like help creating a mentally healthy workplace, have a look at the resources on Mind.

If you’re experiencing problems with your mental health, or worried about someone you know, you’re not alone. There are a range of ways to get help.

When I became disabled no-one would hire me, but Scope helped me find a job I love

Simone never had a problem looking for jobs before she became disabled. She had good references, experience and qualifications, but when she developed repetitive strain injury, it seemed like none of that mattered. After 15 months of getting no responses, Simone had lost her confidence and her hope. In this blog, she talks about how Support to Work helped her turn things around.

I developed repetitive strain injury a few years ago, a condition which affects my arms and my hands. My employer did try to make adjustments – things like speech recognition software and an adapted keyboard – but it got to a point where being on a computer even for 20 minutes caused so much pain. So, I made the decision to change career.

I didn’t think finding another job would be too difficult. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do lots of computer work, but I had so many transferable skills. But after 15 months of applying for jobs with no response, I lost hope. It got to the point where I was just applying for anything.  It didn’t matter what it was or what the pay was, I was just desperate to work. But I still couldn’t find someone to employ me.

A woman stares into the distance, in front of a bus stop
Disabled people, on average, have to apply for 60% more jobs than non-disabled people.

It was probably the lowest point of my life

It really knocked my self-worth and my self-confidence. You start to feel like you’re not worthy of being employed despite having a great career history. I felt like all my qualifications had been for nothing.

I felt lost, and when you get to that point, you need someone who can sit down with you and go “Okay, so these are your strengths and these jobs would suit you.” But I couldn’t find anyone willing to help. One agency told me “It’s unfortunate but employers will look at you as a liability.”

Then I got in touch with Scope.

The right support turned my life around

They were really quick to get started. When the employment adviser, Zaid, looked at my CV he said, “Wow, this is brilliant. I’m confident that we can help you.”

A women holder a file with office behind her

“I felt a sigh of relief. It felt like someone finally had my back, after months of feeling so alone.”

The main thing that Support to Work helped me with was my confidence. Because my confidence had taken such a huge knock, I didn’t feel like an employer should employ me. I didn’t think I was worth it. But when Zaid made so many nice comments about my CV and gave me so many ideas for what I could do, I started to believe in myself again.

I think I’d been coming across as negative on applications, but he helped me find the right approach to tell employers about my condition and talk about what I can do with simple adaptations.

With my new-found confidence, I applied for a role as Operations Assistant and I got an interview straight away. The interview went really well and I was offered the job! I felt uplifted. I was so happy. I was smiling for days.

For a long time, I couldn’t see a future but Support to Work really turned my life around.

Two women and a man chatting in an office, holding mugs
If you’re a disabled job-seeker, Support to Work can help you build confidence and develop skills for your job search.

My advice for employers

I love my job and I feel like my employers have exactly the right attitude. At the interview, I talked about my condition and they said, “You’ve got the skills we’re looking for, it won’t be a problem”. It put me at ease straightaway. I wish all employers thought like that when it came to hiring people.

Once in work, employers should make conversations about adjustments easy. In my current role, I feel confident that I could ask for changes if I needed them. I’ve got an open communication with my manager so if I do have any problems we can find a way to work around it. I also think they should be open to doing things differently. At work, I’m not afraid to say, “Look this is a bit much, can we do it a different way?”

Another piece of advice is to take advantage of schemes like Access to Work, which paid for my adaptive equipment – things like dictation software and an adapted keyboard – it hasn’t cost my employer anything and it enables me to do my job well.

Ultimately, I want employers to look beyond someone’s impairment or condition and focus on the skills and experience that they would bring to the role. Just because someone is disabled, doesn’t mean they won’t be an asset for your organisation.

Support to Work is funded by Virgin Media as part of our three year partnership to understand and tackle the issues disabled people face getting into and staying in work.

Our ambition is to reach one million disabled people with employment information and support by the end of 2020, so they can get into work, stay in work and realise their career ambitions.

If you’re a disabled job seeker, you can sign up to Support to Work on Scope’s website.

What does the Government’s plan to tackle disability employment mean for disabled people?

Today the Government set out its plan to support more disabled people to enter and stay in work, with a laudable ambition of getting a million more disabled people into work over the next ten years. The Prime Minister said she is “committed to tackling the injustices facing disabled people who want to work, so that everyone can go as far as their talents will take them.”

This follows on from a government consultation last year which looked at ways to improve support for disabled people both in and out of work.

We’ve taken a closer look at the Government’s plan published today and what it could mean for disabled people.

At Scope, we know that there are one million disabled people who can and want to work. Yet too many face barriers to entering, staying and progressing in work.

This is a huge waste of disabled people’s talent and potential, which is why we’ve been campaigning over the last four years to convince the Government to address the challenges faced by disabled job-seekers and employees.

Illustration of a CV with a tick next to it. Text: one million disabled people can and want to work
One million disabled can and want to work

The Government today has announced a series of measures to increase disability employment and change the workplace for disabled people. These include trials that will look at ways to support disabled people to move into employment and proposals to support disabled people to stay in work. There is also a greater focus on the role of employers in supporting disabled people in the workplace.

Last year we gathered many of your views and experiences of work and the workplace. It’s positive to see the Government’s ambition, but it’s vital this plan leads to swift and meaningful action if they are to meet their pledge to get one million more disabled people into employment over the next ten years.

Work Capability Assessment

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is the gateway to a higher rate of benefit for disabled people whilst out of work. We’ve long been calling for the Government to replace the WCA with a new assessment which more accurately recognises the barriers disabled people face to entering and staying in work.

The Government has said it will be exploring ways to improve disabled people’s experiences of the assessment process and provide more personalised support.

Whilst this is a step in the right direction, this does not go far enough. We need to see a complete overhaul of the assessment that accurately identifies the back-to-work support disabled people need. It is important that any assessment for financial support is separate from any conversations about support to move into work.

Employment support

The Government have set out a series of proposals for testing new ways of offering support to disabled people to take up employment.

This includes exploring the idea of personal budgets for employment support and testing out an offer of voluntary employment support for people in the support group of Employment and Support Allowance.

We think these ideas have the potential to help disabled people get the tailored support they need to get into work. However, it’s vital that any engagement with employment support is voluntary and has no impact on the financial support an individual receives.

Employers Driving Change

The Government has also announced a range of measures to improve the workplace and highlight the role employers play in tackling disability unemployment. This includes a focus on getting large employers to voluntary publish information on their disabled employees, as well as a greater focus on providing employers with information and advice

We think this is positive news. Our research shows that 48 per cent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer, demonstrating that we need to do more to create inclusive workplaces for disabled people.

A graphic showing statistics from Scope research. It reads "48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer"
48 percent of disabled people have worried about sharing information about their impairment or condition with an employer

 

This change will help to give employers a better sense of areas where they’re doing well at recruiting and retraining disabled staff, and areas they need to look at where disabled people are underrepresented.

Access to Work

There are also a range of measures to improve the Access to Work scheme. This provides essential resources and support that disabled people need to do their jobs.

It can make a huge difference to working disabled people, but we know that disabled people can sometimes face issues with the scheme, such as delays in getting support, or loss of their package of support if they change role within the same organisation.

This can make it harder for disabled people to stay in their jobs. We know that for every 100 disabled people moving into work, 114 leave, meaning its critical disabled people have the right support once in employment.

The Government has proposed changes to improve the delivery of the scheme, which include investing in its Mental Health Support Service and making it easier for disabled people to take their awards with them when they change jobs. However, it is crucial the Government invests in Access to Work so that a greater number of disabled people can benefit from the scheme to help them stay in work.

Statutory Sick Pay

There is also a commitment to consult on Statutory Sick Pay (SSP). This is money paid by an employer to their employee while they are off sick, either instead of, or after, occupational sick pay.

The Government’s proposal would help to increase disabled people’s income during a phased return to work after a period of sickness absence. However, we want to see the Government go further and reform SSP so that disabled people have greater flexibility in managing fluctuations in their condition whilst at work.

What next?

Today’s publication includes a range of measures that could help tackle the disability employment gap and improve the workplace for disabled people. It’s critical that disabled people’s experiences are at the heart of any changes.

The Government now needs to build on this plan and ensure that it quickly leads to real change for disabled people.

Scope will be continuing to campaign on disability employment so that more disabled people can enter, stay and progress in work.

As part of this, Scope has launched its Work With Me campaign with Virgin Media to get government, employers and the public to tackle the issues faced by disabled job-seekers and employees.    

Find out more about our campaign and how you can get involved.

My message to employers: disability is not a weakness

Azar lives in London and wants to work in the financial markets as a currency trader. He’s well on his way, with a 2:1 in business management, but he feels that attitudes need to change if he’s going to be successful.

Past job interviews didn’t go well – employers would focus on his impairment which made him feel uncomfortable and lose confidence. He’s supporting our Work With Me campaign to ensure that employers see beyond disability and focus on his strengths.

I have cerebral palsy which affects my right side and movement. It’s not immediately noticeable but there are small things that could make a big difference for me in the workplace. For example, I can’t type, so I use software programmes where I speak and it automatically writes down what I’m saying.

I found it really hard looking for work. I always tried to hide my impairment but during interviews employers would ask “Do you have a disability? How will you be able to do the job?” which made me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to answer it.

I felt like the odds were stacked against me

Getting rejected again and again, you feel like it’s because of your impairment and that made me want to give up. I couldn’t explain cerebral palsy confidently and it made me feel like it was more of a weakness than I strength. I had all the skills but I felt like I was being judged. It seemed like employers were thinking there will be other people who aren’t disabled who can do the job better.

Work With Me

There’s a lack of awareness and understanding. I feel like employers don’t know how to adapt to disabled people’s needs, they just don’t think about it. Companies should be open about starting conversations in a way that’s not off putting. Their attitude should be “If you have an impairment we’re going to provide you the support you need to prosper in this role.”

A million disabled people can and want to work, but they’re not being given the opportunities. I think campaigns like Work With Me can have an impact by helping more disabled people get in to work and show what they can do. Work With Me can also educate employers about what they can do to improve and show them that it’s not about disability, it’s about competency.

Scope storyteller, Azar, holds up a placard which says #WorkWithMe
Azar is supporting Scope and Virgin Media’s new employment campaign, Work With Me

My advice to others

Knowing that there’s a million disabled people who, like me, want to work but aren’t being given the chance, makes me feel so frustrated. It makes me more determined to prove to employers that disability isn’t a weakness. My advice to other disabled people looking for work is use your strengths and show employers that disability doesn’t define you – you can defy the odds.

I feel more confident taking about my impairment now and what I need to prosper in a company. I feel more sure of myself and my skills. To all the employers who are put off by disability I want to say: don’t judge me by my impairment, judge me on my skills and my experience, look at my track record. Cerebral palsy is not a weakness and with the right adjustments I can succeed.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

I was told “We don’t have any jobs for people like you”

Marie is a college tutor from Milton Keynes. Although her current job is ideal, she’s experienced barriers and negative attitudes in the past, including the time she was told ‘not to bother’ working. She passionately believes that everyone should be given a chance and is supporting our Work With Me campaign to make that a reality.

I’ve got osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bones. It means my bones can break easily so I use wheelchair, I can’t stand or walk. The condition can make me very tired and there are nights when I can’t sleep at all so it would be difficult to do a typical 9 to 5 job.

My current employer is understanding of my needs and the job I have is so flexible. I’m able to work from home which suits me perfectly. If I can’t pick up work on a certain day, they’ll email it across or agree a different time for me to collect it. But it hasn’t always been so easy.

“We don’t have anything for people like you”

When I finished my degree in Health and Social Care in 2011 I didn’t have a lot of luck finding a job. I went to the Job Centre for support and their attitude was pretty much “Why do you want to work? We don’t have anything for people like you.” There was no help or aspiration.

Being told not to bother working it made me feel angry and upset. I’d spent so many years studying, I’d put everything into my degree, I’d worked in the past and I wanted to progress. It made me feel worthless, like I couldn’t contribute towards society like anyone else. It was frustrating.

I decided not to put that I was disabled on my CV because I felt like I wouldn’t get an interview. I often managed to get interviews but when I turned up I could tell by people’s reactions that I wasn’t going to get that job. I think it was largely because they didn’t understand my impairment and didn’t want to take the chance.

If you’re disabled, it can be difficult to progress in your career too. I’ve had many different jobs and at times I felt like I was being treated like a child because employers didn’t allow me to use my skills and knowledge. I ended up leaving one job. If people aren’t going to accept me for who I am and what I can do, why stay?

The things that people say to you never go away. There have been times where bad attitudes have made me feel like “What’s the point in working?” I just wanted to find an employer who would give me a chance, like anyone else would be given a chance.

A disabled woman, Marie, holds up a placard which says #WorkWithMe
Marie supports Scope and Virgin Media’s new employment campaign, Work With Me

Work With Me

Knowing that there’s a million disabled people out there who want to work but are being denied the opportunity, it makes me angry because everybody should be given an opportunity. We all want to contribute to society.

I think a lot of employers don’t want to hire a disabled person because they don’t understand disability and they just want the ‘perfect’ person. So, the way to change negative attitudes is for those of us who are disabled to prove them wrong. To show that we can do it, and it doesn’t matter if we use a wheelchair or we’re visually impaired – with the right support, it doesn’t affect your ability to work.

My advice to employers is just give someone a chance and think about what they can do, not what they can’t do. When I got my current job, the feedback was really positive. The interviewers said that I was confident, I clearly knew the subject and I had all the skills. Why can’t all employers be like this?

People shouldn’t be put into a box. Some people can’t work, but that’s not the reality for many disabled people. That’s why I’m supporting Work With Me. I think this campaign is going to open people’s eyes. Unless you see stories out there, people won’t know what’s possible.

Please join me and help change the future of employment for disabled people.

Be part of making change happen. Find out more about Work With Me and share the campaign on your social media networks using #WorkWithMe.

We’ll be publishing a series of powerful stories, videos and photography over the coming weeks to highlight the issue so that we can secure everyday equality for disabled people.

I used to hide my autism from employers, now I see it as a positive – End the Awkward

Felix took part in First Impressions, First Experiences, a pre-employment course for young disabled jobseekers. Since then he’s been working hard to reach his goals and he’s passionate about changing employers’ attitudes towards disability. 

For End the Awkward, Felix talks about how he learned to see disability in a positive light and why employers need to do the same.

Before I joined Scope’s pre-employment programme, I was working for a firm in East London. Unfortunately it didn’t go according to plan and I realised that, while my autism can’t be ignored, it isn’t something that I should be ashamed of.

Now I talk about disability in a positive light

In the past, I wouldn’t have disclosed my autism to potential employers, but Scope’s pre-employment programme taught me how to talk about it in a positive way. Now I do talk about autism and those who I’ve worked with have seen it in a positive light. Instead of just seeing autism as a negative, I’ve shown that there are many positives as well.

I think there are two ways to improve inclusiveness in the workplace. The first thing is for employers to be educated about disability, but another way is for potential candidates, who are disabled, to strike up the confidence to say “This is my condition, this is why I need support”. I’ve also learned to highlight the positives that I can bring to the workplace so that potential employers don’t feel the need to question my abilities.

Employers shouldn’t hide from disability

I read an article about how 49 per cent of companies don’t want to hire someone who has learning difficulties and that affected me because I’m part of that demographic. And unfortunately, it said further on in the article that only 7% of people with learning difficulties are in employment which means that 93% have been forgotten about.

Workplaces can be more autism friendly by being patient when it comes to communication, reinforcing boundaries regarding employee relations, and if there is an incident where the individual is anxious then it would be best to find to out why. They should acknowledge that autistic people have skills and see how those skills could be best utilised by the organisation.

Felix laughing with a friend

Education is key

I discovered that two thirds of the public are still uncomfortable with people with disabilities, and that’s very clear in terms of employment and in terms of social life. There’s a long way to go to improve attitudes and awareness.

I feel like there’s a lack of diversity regarding the public image of disabled people. When people think of a disabled person they usually think of somebody who’s using a wheelchair. But it’s so much more.

People need to be educated about what cerebral palsy is, about what autism is, how they can make adaptations, and so on. Education is key so that employers know how to support that person’s needs. You could have a positive mindset but if the work environment isn’t supportive, it can go downhill from there.

Everybody brings something new to the table

I think that awareness campaigns like End the Awkward can have an impact on employers and on the wider public. Disability is a broad spectrum. Just because someone is disabled, doesn’t automatically mean they can’t do something.

You can’t compare yourself to everybody else. Can you imagine how bland and boring the world would be if everybody was the same? Everybody brings something new to the table. My achievements are a testament to how disability doesn’t have to be a barrier to having a good life. It’s time other people realised that.

You can stay up to date with everything End the Awkward on Twitter and Facebook using #EndTheAwkward or visiting Scope’s End the Awkward webpage.

“I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary” – disability and employment

At a fringe event at the recent Labour Party Conference in Liverpool, organised by Scope and the Fabian Society, senior Labour Party parliamentarians, policy experts and disabled people shared their experiences of employment. The group considered how to ensure disabled people played a key role in the changing world of work.

The panel consisted of Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Debbie Abrahams MP, Neil Coyle MP, General Secretary of the Fabian Society Andy Harrop, Scope’s Head of Policy, Research and Public Affairs Anna Bird and Lauren Pitt.

In this blog Lauren talks about her experiences of employment and her thoughts following the panel event.

I lost my sight at the age of 13. When I graduated from university in 2015, I began what turned out to be a long and difficult job hunt. I applied for over 250 jobs but despite being qualified, I only got interviews about 5% of the time. The interviews were generally very negative about my disability. They’d ask “How are you going to be able to do this job?” and I would think “Well I can, otherwise I wouldn’t have applied” but it’s difficult if you’re not being given the chance.

“In phone interviews, when I mentioned that I was disabled their attitudes changed. Potential employers were suddenly less interested in what I had to say.” – Lauren, in her opening speech

I eventually got offered a job and I’m really enjoying it.  When Scope invited me to speak at this event, I immediately said yes. For me, none of the process of getting into work was easy. I came because I wanted to make that process easier for other people. I’m keen to change attitudes towards disability in the workplace and by sharing my story, I want to help disabled people have the confidence to get jobs.

I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary

People think it’s extraordinary that disabled people work but I want to make the extraordinary seem ordinary. We want to contribute to our communities as much as an able-bodied person. We have no reason not to be and we shouldn’t be stopped from doing that.

Employers may see disabled people as having certain disadvantages, but those disadvantages can actually be very advantageous. We have to be problem solvers, we’re determined, resilient and we want to work.

A massive barrier is people’s attitudes. People see us in the Paralympics and think “oh look at that blind person running” but we can do so many other things. People need to see the variety of jobs that disabled people are in.

The panel sit behind a white table in front of a screen that reads "An inclusive future"

Policies and support need to be better

At the Job Centre, there was the assumption that I only wanted part-time work. Well, no. I might be disabled but I can still work full time. I want to contribute as much as anyone else and I can.

Information about the support available also needs to be better. Technology is essential in supporting me to do my job as well as anyone else can and that’s provided by Access to Work. But it took four weeks after my assessment for my equipment to arrive – four weeks where I wasn’t able to do my job. Also, research done by Scope showed that around half of people said they don’t know about Access to Work or don’t know how to get it. Well, that needs to change. Without Access to Work, there’s no way I could do my job.

Stories show people what’s possible

We need to share success stories and use them to show disabled people and employers that disability doesn’t have to be a barrier. Stories change people’s minds. Scope’s End the Awkward campaign has changed people’s minds already – people often talk to me about it. By seeing disabled people doing things, you believe that it’s possible.

It’s also important that disabled people believe in themselves. When you see others succeeding, you think “Maybe I can do that”. Commonly more negative stories are shared and people see those and think it’s not going to happen. I know towards the end of my job hunt I wanted to give up. I just didn’t think I was ever going to get a job. I knew I could do it but by the end it was like “Can I?”

A massive thing for disabled people is confidence. The world is not an easy place to live if you’re disabled – you’re faced with barriers left, right and centre. But there are also ways to overcome those barriers. And it’s about learning those ways and being given the right support. You get ground down by applying for jobs and not getting anywhere.

Lauren crouching down with her guide dog, both wearing robes at her graduation ceremony
Lauren and her guide dog at her graduation ceremony

Sharing knowledge is really important

Another thing I would love to see would be the option to have a mentor – either another people who is disabled and currently in work or an employer. Sharing experience is a massive thing because it builds up that self confidence and that knowledge. You’re not going to learn something unless you’ve got someone showing you. I want everyone to see that disabled people can work just like everyone else. My line manager went for an interview and said that she worked with someone who’s blind and they were like “How?” and she was liked “Well, like this…” and that’s the thing, it’s a transfer of knowledge.

I also think it’s important to educate people when they’re young, which is something Scope are doing at the moment, with their Role Models programme. The more people see at a younger age, the better their attitudes will be. Sometimes older people say it’s amazing that I’m working – well, it’s not really that amazing and they wouldn’t say that to my brother, who’s sighted.

Working together to change the future of employment

Today was great. Everyone on the panel spoke about the many things that can be done to help disabled people find and stay in work. We also spoke about things that aren’t being done that should be – some things that can easily be implemented and other things that may be more difficult and how funds can be better used.

I really enjoyed having this opportunity to talk to disabled people, politicians and people who worked for different charities, all of us coming together to share the knowledge and ideas that we have, to help change the future for disabled people in employment.

Scope has partnered with the Fabian Society to produce a series of essays that look at how the modern and future world of work can be inclusive for disabled people.

To read more about Lauren’s journey into work, read her previous blog.

If you have an employment story you would like to share, get in touch with the Stories team.