https://faststream.blog.gov.uk/2019/03/18/wellbeing-on-the-fast-stream/

Wellbeing on the Fast Stream

I’m Vishal and I’m currently on the Generalist scheme of the Civil Service Fast Stream. I did my MSc at the University of Liverpool from 2016-17. Having disabilities (from my mental health conditions), I thought it’d be worth explaining why the Civil Service Fast Stream is a worthwhile career. There is a considerable commitment to inclusion across the Civil Service and various mechanisms/protocols for ensuring reasonable adjustments are made to enable us to fulfill thrive as public servants.

I am disabled (or have disabilities, depending on how you want to look at it) and this is a term I have only recently come to embrace, despite the disadvantages it can entail in various social contexts. Indeed, it was the Civil Service’s transparent application process and accommodating attitude to disabilities within the workplace that made me feel more comfortable with this part of my identity (despite the problematic terminological connotations).

I was sectioned under section 2 and, subsequently, section 3 of the Mental Health Act (i.e. involuntarily detained in a psychiatric care unit) for two months during my final year of university (whilst studying for a BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Warwick). My traumatic experiences in the hospital led to the onset of moderately severe Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I also had a period of depression after my time in the hospital (after being misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder). Furthermore, I have Asperger’s syndrome - that is, I am on the ‘high-functioning’ part of the autistic spectrum; this was diagnosed much later in my adult life, when I was around 23.

The acute psychotic episode that left me in the hospital for two months led to me repeating the final year of university and reasonable adjustments were subsequently made in my academic studies; so, for example, I was allowed to replace exams with extended essays for the final year of my BSc in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and, whilst at the University of Liverpool studying for an MSc in Advanced Computer Science with Internet Economics, I was allowed some extended time during my exams to reduce stress.

This all relieved pressure immensely and I was understandably nervous about how such reasonable adjustments could be replicated/adapted for a high-powered career within the workplace. My apprehensions were quickly rendered unnecessary since I was met with a highly accommodating workplace for disabilities. The Civil Service is such a large organisation that there are various contexts you can thrive in whilst having reasonable adjustments made for your disabilities.

Vishal sitting outside a cafe

For me, due to my PTSD, from time to time, I actually have completely sleepless nights. So, of course, I can function the next day and most people do not notice but I know that my productivity is significantly impaired. This is largely unpredictable but since the Civil Service enables flexible working arrangements, I asked for my managers to be aware of this and, when this happens, to allow me to simply call/message with the intention of staying at home and simply getting some sleep and doing some work later in the day (since I can do the work and I don’t need to take sick leave, but I would function far better and be more healthy if I simply had the chance to get some sleep). This has been readily agreed.

I’m still unsure about how or whether I should ask for reasonable adjustments for my Asperger’s syndrome as I’m still largely involved in a process of self-realisation/discovery regarding it; therefore, I simply tell my manager that I have it and, in certain working groups where it is relevant (where we are working on promoting inclusion and fair treatment, for example), openly disclosing it is not only helpful but widely welcomed due to the valuable perspectives that we bring.

For other disabled colleagues (with physical disabilities, for example), reasonable adjustments could include other flexible arrangements, specialised chairs to support one’s back/head or otherwise, specialist software, certain keyboards, monitors, your own desk  (where extreme allergies prevent you from hot desking, for example) etc. As I said, the Civil Service is such a large organisation, there will always be arrangements available to ensure you are comfortable, healthy and can function optimally.

As a Fast Streamer, you will rotate through various postings so you may understandably be apprehensive about re-affirming/confirming these reasonable adjustments in each context; however, we have a system in place where individuals obtain ‘workplace adjustments passports’ that act as a way to take these reasonable adjustments with them to each organisation within the Civil Service and, therefore, to each posting on the Fast Stream.

Additionally, unlike various working environments where ‘desk time’ is valued (i.e. simply being seen in the office), the Civil Service simply wants to see you get the job done (health and circumstances permitting) and, so long as you can be trusted to do that, you are given a significant degree of autonomy about how you manage your own time. Indeed, the freedom to simply leave my desk and go for a walk, grab a coffee, have a chat with colleagues without being judged for purportedly ‘slacking’ etc. has facilitated an improvement in my mental health and ensured I can do my very best as a public servant. Throughout my career in the Civil Service, I have been fortunate to see both colleagues facilitate a positive working environment from the bottom-up as well as leadership facilitate it from the top-down.

Finally, I would personally encourage you to disclose your disabilities during the application process - it will not count against you, it is entirely anonymised and, if anything, it will only help since reasonable adjustments can be made during recruitment. Indeed, the night before the Assessment Centre, I had zero sleep and I told the staff this who were understanding and I somehow managed to get through the day (and onto the Fast Stream) on a lot of coffee.

 

1 comment

  1. Comment by Bryan Plymale posted on

    As an educator we are constantly making modifications, accommodations and adjustments for our students with special needs. It is refreshing to know that the Civil Service in the UK is able to make such adjustments for employees with mental health challenges. Your openness and perspective is refreshing and, as was the case when you were in high school many years ago, I am impressed with your high functioning abilities. I too have my challenges with mental health and misdiagnoses and have always been fortunate enough to have worked in humane educational institutions where I was respected and encouraged to be my “fine self”, even without having to define or described my mental health challenges. In retrospect I wish I would have been able to have had a ‘workplace adjustments passport’ such as the one you described. I wish you all the best and much success with your career and I look forward to cheering you on from the sidelines, virtually. Cheers to you and the UK government Civil Service Fast Stream.