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Disability Narratives

We asked people to tell us about the support they got from their managers and their department. For many people how a manager or senior person in their department reacted their long term condition or disability was of crucial importance not only to their being able to work effectively, but also to how they felt emotionally able to cope with their condition.

How managers were supportive

Managers were often the cornerstone of the support a person received in the workplace. Many people we spoke to said that their managers had been "very supportive", "great", or "amazing". Kevin explained that in his experience "I think most sensible employers will relish the chance, just to be told and to say 'Well how can we help?'". In many cases this praise was generated by what might seem to be small adjustments to a person's work or environment.

Click for Lyn's interviewLyn’s manager was able to support her by making several small adjustments to compensate for her dyslexia.

 

Click for John's interviewJohn’s manager was able to help him find a space to recuperate, which helped him manage his chronic fatigue syndrome.

 

For other people, there was a need for longer periods of support or more sizable adjustments needed to be made. The ease and willingness of how some managers and departments went about making these changes was a welcome surprise to some people.

Click for Liz's interviewThe speed and efficiency with which changes were put in place surprised, but helped reassure Liz.

 

Click for Charlotte's interviewWhen Charlotte started a new role at the University, her manager agreed to help phase her in to the role.

 

Click for Gabrielle's interviewGabrielle’s manager took a flexible and understanding approach to taking sick leave before she even started her new role.

 


It was often less that their manager was implementing some particular guidance, and more about how the quality of the relationship made a difference to their day-to-day working lives; a feeling that they and the contribution they made were valued.

Click for Susannah's interviewSusannah’s found it really helped that the support her manager provided was a natural, human, thing to do.

 

Click for Charlotte's interviewIn Charlotte’s experience individual line managers have made the difference when it came to implementing policy.

 

Click for Paul's interviewPaul’s manager was not just understanding about his dyslexia but sees how it is balanced by the strengths Paul brings to the team.

 

Knowing what can be done and the value of a manager taking the initiative to ensure support was put in to place was appreciated by many. For example, Maria described how, after meeting several dead-ends, her manager took on the responsibility of "complaining" to IT services to ensure she got the necessary equipment and training she needed.

Click for Jo's interviewFor Jo the manager who was able to help her the most had familiarised herself with the ways she could support Jo and was happy to talk to her about what was available.

Click for Mary's interviewHaving a manager who took a proactive approach was appreciated by Mary.

 

Problems

Unfortunately some staff did not get the support from their managers that they hoped for. Without passing judgement on what happened in each case, we found there were some common themes to people’s experiences. These include: managers not being familiar or finding the time to familiarise his/her self with a condition or disability; being unaware of guidance or sources of support; inflexibility of attitude or approach; not being available to provide the support when needed; and, problems with continuity of management. In many circumstances (as we explore in the following sections), there were small things that other managers were doing, that may have made life easier for all involved.

Continuity

Click for Jo's interviewJo has had mixed experiences with managers, especially ones who were new to the team.

 

Click for Rachel's interviewThe problems with continuity of manager caused difficulties for Rachel’s relationships with her managers.

 

Click for Frances' interviewFrances found the different management styles of two managers had drastically different outcomes for her productivity and emotional wellbeing.

 


Attitudes and approach

Click for Sue's interviewAlthough Sue had a generally good experience with her managers, there were occasions when she felt unsupported.

 

Click for Maeve's interviewMaeve was made to feel like a troublemaker and that she should just be grateful for her job at the University.

 

Click for Charlotte's interviewEven though her manager had agreed to amend Charlotte’s role to desk-based work, her manager made her feel obliged to undertake other roles, resulting Charlotte having to go on sick leave to recover.

 

Familiarity and availability

Click for Stella's interviewAlthough supportive when available, Stella found her manager – a senior professor – was often too busy to fulfil her line pastoral duties.

 

Click for Roberta's interviewRoberta reflects on the implications of having a busy academic as a line manager.

 


Developing supportive relationships and working environments


It is therefore clear that having a good relationship with your manager was seen by many as a key relationship to being able to work effectively while managing a long term condition or disability. It was recognised that not all managers would be familiar with how best to work with someone with a long term condition or disability, or be aware of what types of support might be available for their staff (and for themselves). There was a contrast in some accounts between experiences of managers who approached providing support as an obligation or problem, and those who sought to help their staff find ways to do their job. Several people emphasised how, when managers treated them as an individual and were prepared to be flexible and work with them, it was a lot easier to find ways to ensure they got the support they needed.

Click for Verity's interviewHaving a manager who recognised that a little flexibility can go a long way in helping someone manage their mental health was a great help to Verity.

Click for Devon's interviewDevon’s manager took an open and flexible approach to the time she was being assessed and treated for her knee injuries.

 

Click for Verity's interviewEnsuring support – such as a SAD lamp – was provided quickly helped Verity feel valued in her new team.

 

Click for Milembe's interviewAt first Milembe struggled to get the understanding she needed when taking sick leave during her chemotherapy, but after further discussion her manager understood the need for flexibility.

 

Although people were mostly happy to discuss their condition or disability with their manager (see Disclosure), some noted that worries about asking for (too much) support, for money to be spent on equipment for them, or being seen as a complainer, might hold them back.

Kevin described, the "open atmosphere" in his team meant that he felt confident about asking for assistance or help, if he needed it. This included small pieces of equipment or needing to work from home to manage his condition. This helped him feel reassured about his future even "if my condition deteriorated or I developed a new disability, [I know] they'd be really helpful, on the ball".

Click for Richard's interviewRichard has found that having a culture of openness that takes diversity and disability seriously comes from the top.

 


It is good to talk...

Good communication is central to most relationships. It was therefore not surprising to find that how managers communicated with their staff was an important theme to many people we spoke to (talking about disability is explored in more detail in Disclosure). It was recognised by several people we spoke to that these relationships were not always easily established. We therefore also asked people to reflect on what helped develop a good relationship with their managers. We were told that, whenever possible, it had been helpful to build a relationship with a manger before any particular support or help was needed.

Click for Liz's interviewHaving managers who reassured her and her husband when she was off on sick leave was a great help for Liz.

 

Click for Ruth's interviewIt can be difficult for managers to talk about disability, but if a manager is struggling Ruth urges them to seek advice.

 

Click for Jo Z's interviewHaving confidence in her manager’s ability to keep issues confidential and to provide support when needed helped Jo Z talk to her manager.

 

Click for Jo's interviewIt is not always as easy as just ‘asking for help’; as Jo explains, managers need to be aware of the wider social issues around disability.

 

Click for Verity's interviewVerity explains the benefit of having a manager who was approachable and had built a relationship helped her seek help in a timely way.

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