I am a consultant within one of the world’s largest professional services organisations. My team looks at people transformation, development, and leadership, with the aim of improving learning and organisational cultures. I started in April 2022 on the graduate scheme.
I have an energy limiting disability and I need support in making sure my workload is manageable and that health and safety measures are put I place when working alone at home or in the office, amongst other things.
When reflecting on asking for support, I recognised that it’s hard. It can be daunting especially if you’ve been faced with misconceptions or lack of knowledge or understanding in the past. For those with hidden disabilities too, it can be even more difficult as you feel challenged on the assumption you are ‘well’. However, in practice, being my own advocate and asking for help has afforded me an amount of empowerment and agency. It has really helped my voice be heard and helped me to make informed decisions which has positively impacted my working environment as well as my wellbeing. So, whilst it can feel very challenging, it can be a very rewarding process. Having that discussion with your manager is a very valuable conversation, so you can be confident; be brave.
My top tips to getting the support you need are as follows:
1.Take time to reflect
Ask questions of yourself around what support you would need before you go into the conversation with your manager. Become an expert about what your needs are. When I’m tired, I find words difficult, so I added notes into the meeting invitation to help me remember the points to raise and it gave my manager a heads-up too. I also made notes to take into the meeting so that I knew that if I was struggling to articulate myself that day, there were questions prepared and a flow to the meeting. This preparation helped achieve better outcomes and I was able to have the kind of meeting I wanted to have. Being prepared not only helps you to feel comfortable going into the meeting, it also helps prepare the manager too, so you set both sides up to have a constructive conversation.
2.You don’t have to tell them everything about your disability
I was worried that I’d have to over-share in order to prove myself and get the support I needed. My disabilities are complex and impact me in a multitude of ways therefore I won’t expect someone to understand unless they experience it. I believe it’s unfair for me to expect them to understand how it impacts me, so I summarise my conditions to key points. I think about what do people need to know in order to recognise that the support I’m asking for is necessary and will help me do my job. It’s enough to let managers know the impact of your disability, rather than the nature of the disability itself, which can be and feel very personal.
3.Consider how to have the conversation
Even though you are having the conversation that is very personal to you, you are having it in a professional environment. It’s unwise to go into it with demands since being demanding is not conducive to an ongoing supportive relationship with your manager. It’s important to approach it with a positive and respectful attitude. Do however be prepared to be assertive if you feel you are not getting the same respectful response.
4.Have an open mind
I think about it as a discussion to explore what support might be available not least that you may not always know what you can ask for. I have come out of meetings learning about other mechanisms of support I could try. Be open to trying new things. If your manager is open too, it leads to a fruitful collaborative approach and finding solutions that work for all concerned. With my manager, we are continually learning together about how to manage my disability in the workplace. I’m learning about what support there is, how it can be put in place and my manager has been learning about support specific to me. For example, travel is difficult for me. I work in Birmingham but sometimes meetings are needed in person in London. Travelling down by train would ordinarily be expected in the morning and then travelling back the same day, in your own time. That’s a no-go for me so instead I can travel in work time and stay overnight if required.
New scenarios will come up all the time, so you need to continually be open and work with your manager to discuss what can work. Think about it as continued collaboration rather than repeated requests.
5.Remember it’s a two-way process
Linked to the points above. I need to work with my manager to find solutions and build up the relationship of trust. Trust itself is a two-way process. I need to know that when I need to have a conversation about support that it’s going to be positive, it’s going to be respectful, it’s going to be open, inclusive and supportive. My manager also needs to know that the adjustments I’m asking for are reasonable and that I’m only asking so that I can be at my best.
My role involves working on different projects with different managers and colleagues. You can feel like you are continually educating people about your condition and needs and saying why things are in place or why you work in a slightly different way. It doesn’t have to always be your responsibility though. You need only share with those what it’ll be helpful for them to know, so that they can help you. I ask managers, “what do you need from me, what would it be helpful to know”. Often the response I get is that they just want me to be comfortable to approach them.
People are supportive and want to help, so when it can feel challenging to ask for help and support and feel like you are constantly having to have that conversation, you can be courageous and brave!