Managing challenges in the workplace

Reactions from others

If you have a visible difference you might have experienced comments, staring and questions from other people. This can feel annoying, upsetting and intrusive. We know that some people have an unconscious bias against those with a visible difference. These comments might come from people who you don’t know. They might be comments on the bus or in the supermarket and you can walk away and not see the person again. If you experience comments, questions or staring at work it can be very challenging, as it is likely you may have to see the same people each day.

  • If you are made to feel uncomfortable or upset in your workplace this is not acceptable. Speak to your manager or confidentially to Human Resources who can help you resolve this. If you are being made to feel uncomfortable by your manager, speak to another manager at the same level or their boss.
  • You do not have to talk about your condition to anyone. This is your personal situation and you can choose whether to share it.
  • Some people do find it helpful to have a discussion with colleagues, as this can put an end to any curiosity or concerns people may have.
  • If you decide to speak to your colleagues, think about what you are happy to share with them, and share only what you feel comfortable with. For example, you might say, “I have a genetic condition which affects the appearance of my face, but it doesn’t affect any other part of my body or my health.”
  • If you are in a role where you interact with the public a lot and receive any comments or questions, you can try and focus the customer on the issue at hand. “Yes, I have a condition which affects my appearance. I am just wondering if you would like to buy….” Or, “I would prefer not to discuss this, is there anything else you need help with today?”. You might want to take five minutes away from customers (e.g. go to the toilet), to manage any difficult feelings that have arisen.
  • If you have a condition that is mostly hidden you might feel anxious about changes in season (e.g. if you wear short sleeves this could make skin conditions more visible), or you might need a new wig and worry people will then notice you have hair loss. You might decide to speak to people before this happens to avoid any surprised looks (people are naturally curious) or have a prepared response if anyone asks a question.

Managing doctors’ appointments with work

You might have a condition which has an impact on your physical or mental health. This is the case for lots of people who may have conditions that you cannot see.

Whilst work places prefer appointments to be made outside of working hours, this is not always possible. You should be given time off to attend any hospital or doctors appointment. If you are unsure, consult your manager or the Human Resources department.

It can be difficult to juggle work and doctors/ hospital appointments if you are having ongoing treatment. If you need with your work or support with returning to work, for example, reduced hours or lighter activities for a while, speak to your HR/occupational health department, or if you are part of a small company, speak to the manager about ‘reasonable adjustments’. Employers must make reasonable adjustments to make sure workers with disabilities, or physical or mental health conditions, aren’t substantially disadvantaged when doing their jobs. This applies to all workers, including trainees, apprentices, contract workers and business partners.Your GP can write a fit note with details of any adjustments which may be required or you might need to attend an occupational health appointment.

Discrimination in the workplace

If you feel that you are being treated differently or negatively because of your appearance (or in fact for any reason!) you might want to seek advice on your rights at work. You might also want to speak to a HR advisor who might be able to support you and let you know what your options are.

Understanding unconscious bias and implicit bias

It may be helpful to understand some things about biases and why people might hold these.

Some people hold an unconscious bias against people with a visible difference. Unconscious bias refers to a bias that we are unaware of, and which happens outside of our control. It happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, which are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. It might mean people look or stare as they haven’t met anyone with a visible difference before.

Implicit bias refers to the same area, but questions the level to which these biases are unconscious, especially as we are being made increasingly aware of them. We all need to recognise and acknowledge our biases and find ways to mitigate their impact on our behaviour and decisions. Once people in the workplace understand and become aware of their bias, steps can be taken to challenge and change this.

Prospects for promotion or career progression

If you have a visible difference you might be concerned that bias or discrimination could affect your career progression or your prospects for promotion. You might have had time off for hospital appointments and worry that this will affect whether you will be promoted. We know that employers have to comply with certain rules and regulations around who they employ and promotions, but unfortunately this does not always happen. Try not to let your worries stop you from applying.

If you are not successful, ask for feedback to help you for the next opportunity. Try to stay positive – there could be manner reasons why you were not chosen on this occasion.

However, if you suspect you have been overlooked for promotion on several occasions with no good reason, or when you are the most obvious candidate, you may wish to speak with your manager, the HR department or take some advice from ACAS or a similar organisation.

Although this sheet is pointing out the potential challenges you may face at work, it is important to know that many people with visible difference have a successful career and enjoy their work.

You might also like to see our sheet on Building confidence to work

Building confidence to work


The talking confidently tool


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