Hardy a day goes by without something in the news or arriving in my inbox that presents stress in work as the biggest contributor to absenteeism from work in the UK and I will go as far as to say, many other counties too.  I am not going to bring up the plethora of articles on this subject, but want to look at this from the perspective of employees who have disabilities.  What about stress disability and work?

We will take as read that stress is caused by many factors and as anxiety is now recognised as affecting men and women differently; so too surely does stress?

If you have a disability and are in work, you will experience stress as will your colleagues, but as stress is often linked to the degree to which we are able to exercise control over what happens to us in and out of work and how we are predisposed to changes in our lives, does having a disability make things any different?

People with disabilities are used to wanting to take control and coping with changes wanted or otherwise.  Disability or an impairment is day to day reality.  Different people approach it from different perspectives dependent upon their personality and how they have been brought up.  If you have read an extract of own story you will get what I mean.  You can read it here.  In my considerable experience in working with people with disabilities over 20 years, I know that how I approach life and my disability is to essentially rebel against anyone who tells me I can’t do something.  But as I get older I also realise that this leads to bloody-minded self-determination, wanting to do it for myself and as family and friends would say, just being sheer bloody awkward.

This means that in the past I have not recognised myself as being stressed, but the one thing I di realise in 2008 was that I did not have control over what was happening to me and that caused my stress.

In assisting employers now as an expert on disability and work, I encounter both ends of the continuum.  I meet employees with disabilities who are so determined to maintain independence that they will not accept the reality as to whether they are able to do their jobs without help or assistive technologies or other ‘reasonable adjustments’.  I know these people so well.  I also meet the employee with a disability who was brought up differently to me, who was never allowed to make their own decisions, would love to learn how to do this, but has also learned to accept their lot almost as a statement of who they are.  They will have little difficulty accepting help because that is what they know makes life easier.

So how might stress affect either person with a disability?

The first person (me) is likely to bottle their emotions up.  Or this is how I used to be until I become emotionally intelligent and realised that some things we perceive as strengths are also our weaknesses.  In 2008 my colleagues saw changes in me and how I was behaving at work.  They noticed me talking much less, being less involved in office gossip and generally appearing to have lost my warped sense of humour.  However, I saw none of this.  In my own head I knew something was going wrong, the only thing I knew that I needed to get things back how they should be was to somehow regain control.  But I couldn’t because I could not change what was happening.  I convinced myself that I could reinvent my own role at work and sort it out myself.  That’s what proactive people do right?  The other thing that was still going for me was ‘resilience’.  Knock me down and I will just get back up and walk through a bolted door to get what I want.

The other person will expect others to have noticed their stress and will likely feel annoyed if it is not noticed.  Remember they have learned that accepting help makes their life easier, but in reality as adults they also now want to have control.  They may appear to accept what comes their way as if it is their human right to do so.  They are likely to not seek out roles where they need to be proactive, because this is outside their comfort zone.  They are likely to often appear to not be satisfied no matter how much help they get.  This is not their fault, remember how they were brought up, which continues to be reinforced by our need to protect those we perceive as more vulnerable whether they truly are or not.

The Emotional Intelligent Response

You will recall if you have not thrown your hands up in horror at what I have just said, that EQ is the key to managing stress for people with disabilities at work.  Resilience, Pro-Activeness and Adaptability are essential skills that must be developed in people with disabilities.  These are also skills that everyone needs, but first you have to become aware that you need to work on these skills.  The Life Coach Station can help you with this.

Chris Catt

The Enabled Entrepreneur

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