As an organisation, would you like to have a positive impact on the health and vitality of your workforce?

It was 7 years ago this month, after my boss was sacked, that I discovered that the HR leadership were not going to follow their own processes and give me an opportunity to apply for a promotion.

As the training organiser, I have been involved in developing some of these policies and training them out to the relevant parties.

Worse than that, my HR Director delighted in telling me that they had already got somebody lined up to take up the role, who was due to start the following month!

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me! I was done with working for organisations that seemed to have no idea about what being a leader was all about.

I didn’t realise how much stress being miserable at work was putting me under. Eventually, my body showed me in the form of my worst Multiple Sclerosis relapse to date!

As it turns out my new line manager felt more like a guardian angel who had come to give me permission to take some much-needed time out for myself.

I had always been taught not to take time off, it doesn’t matter how sick you are or how bad you feel you’re still going to work.

I never would’ve taken any time off.

I was struggling though! Looking back, it must’ve been obvious to most people that I was not in a good state. Prior to that relapse, there weren’t many people who knew that I had MS, you couldn’t really tell.

Then suddenly …

  1. I was not driving (I had lost my confidence as I couldn’t feel my feet properly),
  2. I was holding on the walls to make it to the toilet,
  3. I couldn’t carry my cup of tea from the kitchen to my desk.

And

  1. I was highly emotional, it didn’t take much to set me off into floods of tears.

Fortunately, my new boss was sharp, honest and not afraid of saying it how it was.

Even though her entry into our team was a breath of fresh air, she hadn’t been there long before she noticed my struggles.

She also recognised that the toxic and stressful environment of the workplace was doing nothing to support my health.

“Gina, it’s shit here, and it’s not getting any better!

They won’t know what to do with you! Get a doctor’s note and take as much time off as you possibly can!”

Sadly, she was right.

But, it was the permission I needed. Plus having an advocate in the workplace made the following year less stressful than it would have been.

They continued paying me for a year, even though their sickness policy said 6 months was all I was entitled to. They then paid me to leave. During that time I was in touch with my line manager unofficially, but had very little contact with HR, which was always brought along fear as our HR Manager was not someone who I liked or got on with.

This was just one of the last three companies that I actually worked for who didn’t really know what to do with somebody with a long-term illness.

Is supporting a colleague with a chronic illness, unknown territory?

They have no idea how to support me, and I didn’t have any idea of what would help. We were both in unknown territory.

As we spend so much time at work, the environment has a real impact on our health and well-being.

This means that organisations have a real opportunity.

I was really lucky and had a very unique line manager who put my needs above that of hers or the organisation’s.

That doesn’t happen very often.

However, if the top leadership team had processes that they actually followed, and we’re open to having real honest conversations with people that worked for them, it could’ve been a very different experience.

The organisation did have various training courses and initiatives around health and wellness, but they always felt like a tick-box exercise, and nobody really cared what the outcome was.

Don’t be that organisation that doesn’t know what to do with somebody struggling with a progressive illness.

Be brave and have real honest conversations.

Don’t make health and wellness a tick-box exercise, make it really count.

As an organisation, would you like to have a positive impact on the health and vitality of your workforce?

Are you prepared to think outside the box and do things differently?

If so, come and have a chat with me, where I can share my experience of working with HR and training out processes and policies, combined with my experience of not being supported fully as somebody living with a chronic illness.

~ Gina Dallison