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Careers Café

Requesting accommodations at work


When it comes to requesting accommodations at work, I’m going to make a plug, along the lines of my shameless plug for The plug in this case is for Mental Health Works.

I’m not claiming the site tackles all disability-related topics. It doesn’t. Its focus is clearly mental health. And it has a bunch o’ resources.

This blog walks through a few of parts of this site, starting with questions to consider if you’re trying to figure out whether a disclosure discussion will go smoothly or not. Pick and choose from the questions – questions like, “If your manager were to change, what are the chances the relationship with your new manager would also be supportive and respectful?” are difficult to answer, even if you have a fairly good idea of who’s being groomed for management roles.  And the questions do miss out on activism as a reason to disclose. That said, they do a good job of helping you suss out not just your relationship with your manager, but also the culture of your workplace.

If your discussion about accommodations comes as you’re returning from leave, the site offers suggestions for handling some of the less-than-sensitive comments you might encounter. Your manager can be an ally by smoothing the way for your return. If you think this is something your manager would take to willingly but not naturally, you might provide some guidance in advance. Let your manager know that you’d find it helpful if your team received a reminder before your return that you were away for valid reasons and that you were working hard during that time to be able to return to work. Your manager might also remind your coworkers that, while they may be tempted to express their concerns for you by asking questions about your time away, they can better express their support for you by letting you choose when and what you say about your leave and by recognizing that ramping back up to a full workload may be gradual.

You may also have multiple resources to draw on in your workplace. One that doesn’t appear on Mental Health Works’ list, if you work at a university, is whichever office provides services to students with disabilities. Even if you’re not a student, you may find that the office works with staff and faculty (perhaps even as managers and not just as employees). Don’t rely on their website to tell you whether or not they have something to offer you; some offices don’t advertise their services to people who fall outside their main client group.

As with any conversation that might be challenging, preparation helps. Know how much you want to disclose or keep private. Know what accommodations you’d prefer and which would be helpful but aren’t your top choice. You may even want to think about how you’ll follow up afterwards (page 15 and following of the MS Society’s “Guide to Employment and Income Support” offer some suggestions). Resources like Mental Health Works, other online resources, and people right in your own workplace can offer some good starting points for that planning.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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