5 Simple Things My Employers Do That Help Me Work Successfully With Disability and Mental Illness


Employment with an invisible disability and mental illness can be difficult. Aside from the dilemmas of disclosure, these conditions can also affect the ability to perform job duties or navigate relationships with coworkers and managers. I have disclosed the fact that I have a disability but with no details and only to my HR manager. Despite this, I seem to have hit the employer lottery, and I’ve realized most things my managers do that help me are
incredibly simple.

1. They say hello. Unless we are ridiculously busy, most managers say hi as soon as they see me or at some point during my shift. I know the main reason for this is to let me know they’re watching so I can be evaluated; but because of my anxiety and disability, I have a negative history with authority figures. Growing up, the message I received from
authority was often either, “You screwed up” or “You are screwed up.” Informal interaction like a simple greeting gives me an opportunity to ask questions without feeling like a bother, makes my managers more approachable and tells me I matter.

2. They are respectful, patient and calm. No one is perfect, but in the six months I’ve been at my job, I can count on one hand the number of times any manager has been less than calm or respectful. They’re also patient with what I’ve termed my “anxiety gibberish.”  Even when I plan out how I want to say something, nine times out of 10, anxiety will kick in, and my words will either come out too fast or too jumbled be understood. This is one of my nightmare scenarios. A frustrated, hostile or judgmental response will make me feel worse, and things will spiral from there. Instead of making a big deal out of it or getting frustrated, my managers will just let me know they didn’t understand what I said, give me a minute to collect myself and then continue the conversation. The more I have positive interactions like this, the more comfortable and less anxious I will eventually be.

3. They communicate clearly. Because of my disability, I can struggle to understand expectations and make seemingly “strange” mistakes.  I’ve also never dealt well with criticism. My managers are direct but not harsh. Their expectations and directions are clear, and if not, they’re willing to explain them again. If I do make a mistake, the correction is constructive and not judgmental. They also communicate effectively with each other, which lessens everyone’s stress.

4. They include the positive, and generalize feedback. Mental illness can cause me to be way too hard on myself, and my disability makes simple tasks more difficult, which can lead me to beat myself up. I appreciate the fact that my positive traits are always recognized first and that the required feedback is completely constructive. Things I need to improve are also generalized to everyone. So, instead of saying “You need to be more flexible,” they’ll say, “We all need to be more flexible, not just you,” and “We all have things that we can improve on.” Phrasing feedback generally keeps me from becoming defensive so I’m much more receptive to it.

5. They’re “hands on” and own their responsibilities. If something needs to be done or if someone needs help with something that isn’t in their job description, they don’t hesitate to help out. At times we’ve been busy, they’ve helped me fold clothing, fix signs, find products outside of my department or look for certain things in the stock room. And when I mentioned in my review that I needed more training, instead of blaming me for not knowing, my manager said as long as I asked, he’d be willing to teach me.

I may have a disability and a mental illness, but the things that have helped me the most at work aren’t accommodations but rather things that are universally applicable and incredibly easy to implement. While I definitely don’t want to do my current job forever, when I hear different experiences of employment, I realize how lucky I am to have managers who treat me so well and just like everyone else.

Getty image by UberImages


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