It can be hard to approach the subject of invisible conditions with a current or potential employer – but being open about it has served Steven Sharp well.
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I’ve been honest about my condition at the interview stage with every job I’ve applied for
For Steven Sharp, from Fauldhouse, West Lothian in Scotland, being upfront about having Crohn’s with employers and work colleagues is the norm. “I’m an open book when it comes to my Crohn’s", he says, "and I feel fortunate that I’ve only had positive experiences in my working life. I sometimes wonder if my employment experiences would have been different if I had chosen not to be so honest.”
Steven was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when he was 12 and had to have emergency ileostomy surgery at the age of 17. Living with this through his late teens and early 20s caused some upheaval with his career aims. After getting his head around having a stoma at 17, Steven required further surgery when he was 20 and 22. This meant that, at best, he could work on a short-term basis as his health took priority. At worst, he was forced to stop working altogether.
He explains, “I remember visiting my gran in hospital and she was being cared for by nurses who were actually people I went to high school with. That really made me think about how my life was essentially put on hold at that time because of Crohn’s.”
At that age, you’re really looking to start to make a career for yourself and that’s something I wasn’t really able to do.
He is keen to develop a successful career in sales and administration and enjoys working in an office as part of a team. Steven is employed by Infotone Imaging Supplies as a customer account manager. He is part of a small sales team based at the company’s Livingston office. Steven is happy at Infotone and has a firm eye on promotion within the company. Being able to talk about his condition at work and knowing his managers and colleagues understand how Crohn’s affects him is important to Steven.
“I don’t want to be employed as a number in the workplace – I want to be employed as a person,” he says. “Having Crohn’s is a massive part of my life and I don’t want to hide it. If I have to dash to the toilet because of an issue with my stoma or if I become unwell, I want to know there won’t be an environment of all eyes on me when I return. Not being judged or made to feel awkward by your employers or colleagues makes such a difference.”
The support Steven receives from management and colleagues makes it easier to deal with those days when he has flare-ups. He finds the colder months particularly tough as he experiences fatigue and joint pain. His sleep can also be affected. At those times, his team are always keen to help.
There have been days when Steven hasn’t been too well and he’s the kind of guy who will still make the effort to come into work even when he’s not feeling 100%
“We try to support him as much as we can as we fully understand his condition and how it can affect him," explains Helen, "I have arthritis and when Steven’s explaining about his joint pain, I really do understand. Steven’s role is predominately desk-based, making and taking calls, although it also includes carrying out administrative tasks. When he has issues with his joints, we will do the running around for him.
For example, if he wants a drink, one of us will get it for him. If he has to do some research on one of the computers in the office, we’ll find out what he requires and get that information for him. If he needs to collect printouts, we’ll take care of that too. We help out to ensure Steven doesn’t have to move out of his chair for any other reason than to go to the toilet. He has explained to us how embarrassing it can be when he isn’t well at work.
Most of us didn’t know anything about Crohn’s or IBD before meeting Steven. He’s really given all of us a better understanding.”
We give Steven as much time and space as he needs and we support him in every way we can."
Steven appreciates that other people living with Crohn’s or Colitis may not feel as comfortable opening up to employers and colleagues. “They may worry that they’re going to be judged negatively or perhaps won’t be seen as favourably as others if they choose to talk about their health,” he says.
“Concerns around how Crohn’s or Colitis will interfere with work are another big cause of employment anxiety. It is always a worry in the back of my mind that I could have a bad flare-up that could make me very ill and affect my employment. However, I’d like to think that as more employers gain an understanding of invisible conditions they will see the person they are employing, not just the condition.”
Our employee guide has everything your employer needs to know about your condition, and how they can best support you. If you're unsure how to start the conversation, check out our Talking Toolkit for prompts to get you started.