I took the opportunity to retire from my job during the pandemic. I have MS and my condition worsened during the pandemic. I now need to get back to work because my pension and savings don’t cover my costs. I’m in my late 60’s and I have periods where my MS is better or worse. My previous employer was very flexible about this, but now I am facing having to apply for a new job. I am not sure how to negotiate the kind of flexibility I might need which can vary from week to week. How would you suggest that I approach this?
My advice would be to be honest with a future employer about the flexibility you need. As MS affects people in different ways, it’s important that a future employer is aware of your specific needs.
A future employer is likely to ask about the impact that it will have on your work, so think about your own needs, so that your employer can try to meet them. It might be not easy for others to appreciate, for example, that ‘fatigue’ is not the same as everyday tiredness. Unless you explain, people might not understand the effects of poor coordination, or that at times you find it hard to balance.
All employees have a right to request flexible working and it is important to think about how you present your request to maximise your chance of success. An ideal request is one where the employer can see how the flexible work pattern will benefit them, as well as you i.e. “making the business case”. By being as honest as you can be and talking about the periods where your MS is better and worse and what that means for you in the workplace, it will help a future employer to understand that every day/week can be different, and why they need to be flexible.
When you do your research about companies you’d like to work for, network with people to understand the companies who focus on flexible working. Nowadays this is getting increasingly common for a number of different reasons, and it’s great to understand that your previous employer was very flexible about this, so you know it can work well.
At interview, keep your conversations with a future employer positive by focusing on what can work for you, rather than what is wrong with your current situation. If your employer has objections or concerns, you can overcome these by offering alternative solutions or compromises. Also state how it worked well in your previous organisation and the benefits to you and the organisation.
The Multiple Sclerosis Society have produced a helpful booklet on ‘Work and MS’ for employees and employers which you might like to refer to before you engage in these conversations.
Good luck in the negotiations.
*Liz Sebag-Montefiore is a career coach and Director of 10Eighty, a strengths-based HR consultancy. For more information, please visit www.10Eighty.co.uk.