Sarah was a BBC engineer when, in the mid 1990s, she had a car accident and switched to the then brand new IT industry. ‘Nobody wanted to do computers back then,’ Sarah recalls. ‘It was before Microsoft Explorer, before there was even a visual face to the internet. At the BBC, we had a few 286s, mostly Tulip and Apricot computers – even BBC micros!
’Later when, after three years of chronic back and joint pain and interrupted working, she was diagnosed with hyper-mobility syndrome, Sarah’s workplace needs changed again. ‘It was a relief to have a diagnosis but it wasn’t clear how the condition would develop. I couldn’t sit. I attended meetings lying on the floor. Luckily I was able to turn to the new BBC Accessibility Unit. They sorted me out with a modem (remember them?) and a fully-adjustable chair and I became a pioneer for home-working.’ She’s been remote working ever since.
This is where the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006, better known as TUPE, comes in. The regulations ensure that when employees are transferred from one firm to another, their terms and conditions remain the same.
‘The BBC sold us to Siemens and I was TUPEed across with all my adjustments,’ says Sarah. ‘Siemens were happy about it. No barriers at all. Ditto when I was TUPEed across to Atos. Now we have a formalised workplace adjustment policy at Atos in part because of people like me.’
So Sarah, as she moved from the BBC to Siemens to Atos, preserved not just her T&Cs but also her workplace adjustments (she still uses that chair provided by the BBC in 2003). Many of us have workplace adjustments, imagine taking them with your from job to job. No need to reinvent the wheel every time, no need to explain to your new manager every time.
‘In most workplaces, managers used to have no idea what to do with a disabled employee. Now it’s often “oh, we’ll just make a few changes”.’ But, when she set up Adapt, the Atos network for disabled employees, three years ago, Sarah, now a disabled working mum, was aware that this new flexible thinking was not always benefiting everyone.
‘I wanted to do something for working parents with disabled children,’ she says. ‘I could see this part of the disability spectrum was getting overlooked.’ Indeed, it is around parenting and children that social attitudes to disability are often least evolved. Sarah talks of two sides of the same toxic coin: being asked why she, as a disabled person, was so selfish as to have a child; the parents of disabled children being asked why they didn’t abort.
‘In that climate,’ says Sarah, ‘it’s not surprising that many colleagues had never spoken about their disabled children before. I had the idea of a booklet as a safe place to do that. In part, our flexible working arrangements meant parents could work round their children’s needs without every being questioned but on the down side, they went unnoticed and unsupported.’
Sarah goes on: ‘Disabled parents often have nobody to speak to, not even professionals. The psychological pressure is huge. Other parents may boast about their child winning a prize; for the parent of a disabled child, the prize might be their child getting out of bed in the morning.’ The booklet succeeded in its aim: ‘Two colleagues found they both had children with the same condition,’ Sarah says. ’They’d sat together for years and never mentioned it. Now, they talk about it.’
Sarah hopes the network’s next publication will focus on mental wellbeing. ‘Mental health wasn’t really in our thinking when we set up Adapt,’ says Sarah, ‘but it’s become one of our biggest topics. There’s a massive stigma still which makes talking far harder. We are fortunate our CEO has supported us to set up a network of Mental Health First Aiders. The diversity networks are encouraging the use of story telling to communicate key issues which we hope will encourage others.’ So do we. At PurpleSpace story-telling is in our DNA, one of the big lessons from our Secrets and Big News report. It works.
Not sure if you would contribute to a workplace story-sharing on mental health? But what if you found out that someone at a nearby desk had similar mental health challenges to you? With one in four of us facing such challenges in any given year, the odds are pretty good.
After talking to Sarah, we found ourselves thinking about ‘TUPEing’. In a way PurpleSpace is all about a sort of ‘TUPEing’ - the transfer of good things from one workplace to another. Our forthcoming Purple Passport review will look at the use of ‘passports’ or ‘tailored agreements’ among our members. Let’s promote the carrying of adjustments passports from one job to another. So much the better if they included the appropriate language and arrangements around issues that for reasons of stigma may be more difficult to discuss such as mental health challenges or parenting.
And what about children? Some already have an EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) outlining their special needs. Wouldn’t it make sense for all disabled children to have a ‘passport’ to effectively ‘TUPE’ between education establishments? Who would have thought a series of EU directives that go back to 1977 could be so interesting.
- Atos strives to create the firm of the future, bringing together people, business & technology
- Annual revenue around €12 billion
- Around 100,000 employees in 73 countries
- Main brands: Atos, Atos Consulting, Atos Worldgrid, Bull, Canopy, Unify and Worldline.
- Atos’s Adapt network has about 500 members in the UK
- Adapt publication: ‘Experiences about my child and disabilities: a collection of real life experiences from our staff’
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