Getting to know people at work

Barriers in the workplace can make it more difficult for you as a disabled employee. But here are few tips when you start a new job:

Prepare for people not to be aware of disability

People at work may not understand that some things are difficult for you to do. This could include:

  • how long something takes you
  • being able to do something at one point in the day, and not at another
  • small details in social arrangements that prevent you from taking part

Colleagues may mean well, but they may not 'get it' when you first start. When people do not understand what you need, it can feel like you’re being excluded. How much you want to engage with this is up to you. You must speak out if anything affects your safety or health though.

People may be curious and ask questions, particularly if your impairment is visible. This can be a good thing, but your colleagues may say insensitive things. If they do, remember that this is a reflection on them, not you.

Influencing the culture and environment

If your employer has a culture of employing disabled people, you may find support is already in place for you. Some employers offer peer support schemes. If you want to find allies, and do something to help you feel like you fit in, here are some things that you could try.

Find friendly people

Find people you feel comfortable with. This might take some time. People who value a good life-work balance, who know why and when it’s important for work to be flexible, can be more understanding. This could be single parents, new parents, carers or people with long commutes. There may not be that many disabled people at work. Even if there are, they might want to keep it private.

Everyone plays a bit of a 'role' when they’re new, although this can be more challenging if you’re disabled. It’s normal to worry about fitting in. It’s worth remembering that other people aren’t always having a great time either. Taking part in the social side of work can make it more fun.

Make a plan

Make a list of everyone in your support network. Let them know that you’re starting work so that they’re ready to support you if you need them. This should include people like occupational therapists, your GP and the HR department.

Think about whether you need to pace yourself. Decide how much effort you can put into social events. Regular formal events can be easier to attend than informal ones. Don’t feel that you must stay at an event until the end. Just showing your face at a few events can be as good as going to one until the end.

Making your workplace culture more disability-friendly can take a while. The social calendar may be busier at some times than at others, with weekly, monthly and even annual variations. Learn what these patterns are and make the most of them.

Join a union

Unions can help you to meet people and get adjustments. They also give legal advice. Some unions have groups for disabled people.

If there’s a recognised union where you work, find out who your workplace rep is. If there is not a recognised union, you can still join one. Find a union relevant to your industry or profession.

Staff inductions

Inductions are a good opportunity to meet other new starters. The staff giving the induction can tell you about the social and working culture.

If there isn’t an induction, try to set up an informal one. Talk to people before you get too busy.

Talking about disability

If you’ve started a new job, you’re already doing well. Once you get more confident, you can start to challenge things which are unkind, discriminatory or could be better. Your work friends may support you to push back when you need to. If something’s not working for you, tell people.

It’s OK to protect your privacy. Only share what’s useful to you when you feel comfortable. Some organisations ask you to write a short biography before you start for new starter emails and intranet profiles. It's up to you if you want to mention disability but sometimes it can help to people how they can help you to settle in.

Making the most of when you feel well

Make it clear that you always want to be invited to social events. That way you’ll have the option to go when you feel able to.

Think about when you have the most energy and make the most of that time. This might mean things like missing out on evening drinks, but going to work lunches. Using your leave can also help if you struggle in the evenings, by giving you time to recover.

It’s OK if there are some things that you might not be prepared to do even if the organisers have tried to make it accessible. Don’t feel you have to live up to other people’s expectations.

Helping and including other people

Most people worry about fitting in at work at some point. Contributing to a positive culture will help to make things better for everyone, including you.

If you’ve helped someone, you might feel more comfortable asking them to help you. These could be small things, like getting someone a cup of tea or including them in an email. If someone is helpful, email and thank them. Copying other people will let other people know what works for you.

Bringing in food can help to start conversations, particularly about things that aren’t about disability. Talking about what matters to you will help you to find common interests.

Get involved with social events

People don’t like to think they’ve been thoughtless by choosing an inaccessible venue. If you can, get involved before there’s a firm plan so that you can influence decisions about what’s happening and where.

If someone is choosing a venue, ask them to run it by you. If they’re doing a visit to a venue and you have the time, going along will mean you can let them know if it will work for you.

Allies at work can help you to get what you need

People who know about your condition can help to make sure that things are inclusive and accessible for you when you aren’t around to say something yourself. Things can get lost in translation, such as when you need something from your IT or facilities team.

It’s harder to take away adjustments if they recognised by your employer as reasonable. If you are able to get a change made through your network, think about sending an email to someone in a position of authority to make it official. Describe your need, and how the adjustment meets it.

Read more about getting reasonable adjustments at work.

Last reviewed by Scope on: 12/04/2018

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Talking to work colleagues

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