My experience at work

Helen Povey tells us about the difference a supportive employer can make

I work at Sainsbury’s as a checkout operator, where I scan and process customers’ shopping. This is a job I love despite getting all types of items, from very small things up to large TVs or appliances. I also work supervising the self-scan machines – which can be hectic to say the least – and behind the kiosk serving tobacco and lottery tickets. I generally only work in four-hour bursts as due to my hemiplegia I can’t stand for too long. That’s OK and no one ever questions why I do it. In fact, I’m always asked what I’d prefer to do!

How did you get your job?

I first applied and found out about my job via a job club I was attending weekly at a wonderful charity called the Shaw Trust. I passed all the assessments and a face-to-face interview.

I was taken on as a Christmas temporary employee doing 12 hours a week. I was very lucky to be kept on and 3 years later I am now permanent staff doing 16 hours!

Did you tell them you have hemiplegia and might need support?

I was very fortunate as I’m sure the Shaw Trust advisor got in touch with Sainsbury’s to tell them about me and my hemiplegia, so I’ve never had to explain it myself.

But my advice for telling a future employer about hemiplegia is to be open and honest about it – don’t be worried about what the employer may or may not say. Be confident, you might need to make some adjustments, but you are just as capable to do the job as anyone else, if not more.

What are the people like?

I have met and made so many friends at Sainsbury’s – everyone is very friendly, brilliant with me and my condition has never been a problem to them. Ever since I started, I’ve never been treated any different from any of the other staff. They were all very welcoming with a lovely attitude towards me.

My supervisors don’t treat me any different from anyone else. They did ask me what sort of attitude they should take towards me. Occasionally I need help, either from the customer or a supervisor – but I’ve learnt it is OK to ask if you need a hand! I’m happy to be treated just like everyone else and left to get on with – and I just ask when I need them because I know they will help.

I enjoy my job and I love meeting and talking to people, although I must admit not all customers are nice. I’ve had my fair share of horrible people, but thankfully I have lots of lovely and regular customers to keep me sane and help me see my job is still worthwhile!

What happens if you need time off because of your hemiplegia?

Lately I’ve had a lot of time off due to several operations. My employer has been excellent about this, very understanding. If I keep them informed they are OK with it. When I have been ready to return to work, they have been incredibly helpful and accommodating. I have had to return in a wheelchair and I need to transfer to an adjustable chair at my till. I get regular 20-minute breaks and I must be accompanied by one of my colleagues to get to the café area for staff.

My colleagues are supportive and treat me like an individual. I’m hugely proud to work for a company whose attitudes and goals are so positive.

Are there opportunities to apply for other roles?

I was very lucky in that not long after I started my job, my then manager recommended me to do a work-related qualification which I successfully gained. Now I’m inspired to go back to college to gain more recognised qualifications within the industry. Sainsbury’s will help and support me as much as they can.

Even though I am a checkout operator I do still have a chance to better myself. I can do anything I want – up my current hours, become a team leader or a supervisor. The sky’s the limit!