Alex Dewinter, Head of Operational Improvement within the Capita Public Service division, talks about his experiences of flexible working, as someone who lives with a chronic illness and disability.

With 20 percent of the working population having a medical issue or disability – such as learning disabilities, mental health conditions, cancer or HIV – it’s vital that employers are able to offer reasonable adjustments in the workplace. These adjustments can vary depending on the individual, but include considering access to the workplace, changing equipment, offering flexible hours, working from home and adjusting performance targets. Alex Dewinter, Head of Operational Improvement, lives with HIV. “Often, having a conversation in terms of employment around HIV will lead to people saying ‘I'm sorry to hear that’ but the thing is I'm not looking for sympathy, I'm just looking for a bit of understanding that I may have some additional needs, or that my needs may not make as much sense because I haven't turned up in a wheelchair,” explains Alex. “The wider challenge with non-apparent or hidden disabilities, is that it's easy to make those adjustments or allowances when you can see why you're doing it, but when you can’t, it can lead to problems or difficulties.”

Making adjustments

For Alex, making his employer aware of what they need to do to get the best work from him is vital. “I want to be productive and I want to perform the best I can at work. There are certain little things that will just make things a lot easier and because HIV is recognised as a disability, you're entitled to reasonable adjustments in the workplace. So you are better protected. I’d love to say that you can live with HIV and not think it impacts you in the workplace, but it's a chronic, fluctuating condition. So I would always say to people, why soldier through something when, by having some very straight forward adjustments, your life will be better, and you will enjoy work more.”

Support from the top down

Throughout his career, Alex has had mixed reactions to his condition from various employers and has had to have very difficult conversations with previous employers because of their failure to comply with the law. Many people in his position prefer not to raise their concerns and often avoid disclosing their disability, and sadly many choose to resign over requesting what they are entitled to ask for. Based on his previous experiences, he didn’t have high expectations of Capita, but rather thought that if he prepared for the worst, he was more likely to be surprised. Alex joined Capita as a contractor for 10 months before moving into a permanent position for the past two years. “We agreed from the start as part of my recruitment that I was going to work four days a week and that I had flexibility to primarily be based at home, which was a great start,” says Alex. “Within my first six weeks of being an employee, there was an LGBT forum in London, so I went there, and I got to meet Jon Lewis (Capita CEO) and Rachel Ford (Chief of Staff). It was great to see the chief executive coming to an LGBT forum to say hi and meet everyone. There are other network groups too, including the Capita Ability Network for employees with disabilities. Capita doesn't necessarily have to do those things and it's good that it does, but the difference is that, unlike other organisations, it tries to make sure that there’s someone from the leadership level on those groups as well, who sponsor the network. So there’s a genuine commitment to that. And then there’s the employee representatives (employee directors) on the board. Again, that tells me that Capita really is trying to be more accessible.”

As part of the Capita Ability Network, Alex has an advocate to guide him through all sorts of things and, with engaged, knowledgeable people discussing various things in the network, he believes it’s useful for Capita to have that thinking about policies, processes or recruitment having an informed voice of the community. If you’re new to an organisation or you haven’t worked with a line manager for long, or perhaps you’re not comfortable reaching out to an HR manager, this sort of support is invaluable. “This forum really benefits the people here and undoubtedly makes Capita a better place to work,” adds Alex.

Flexible working for all

There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has made a huge difference to the way all businesses operate – including Capita. It’s also had a big impact on people like Alex. He’s always advocated for a blend of home and office working as that helps him be at his most productive. Now, because other employees are able to do the same, he’s no longer asking for something that is exceptional. “Covid-19 has been an absolute game changer. And I hope it gives people more confidence to say ‘Well, now I want to take this and extend it. Because the benefits of the technology we have now don’t require us to be sitting together to get something done.’ There's a huge amount of work that can be done, at whatever time that suits in the day, in whatever location. It can only be a good thing and is reassuring to see that quite a few employers are saying, actually, we're going to look at a blended approach to work,” says Alex.

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