The Blessing of a Compassionate Boss

Living with a persistent mental illness can create unique challenges when trying to obtain and keep a job.  Application processes, interviews, and training are stressful for most people. Explaining, in addition, special needs or how symptoms may impact work performance can feel extremely difficult or risky for fear of stigma.

My son, who lives courageously with schizoaffective disorder, often experiences depression when he has too much unstructured time on his hands, but increased anxiety around getting to work. He had several jobs in his twenties, but medication changes, tardiness, or problems with learning a great deal of information in a short amount of time often led him to quit before he really settled in.

A job coach from DVR was helpful with interviewing skills, but once a job is obtained her role ends.  The “Ticket To Work” card has been impossible to actually use in the Madison area. He has more skills than many, but also needs more support than others, so he falls through the cracks in terms of employment assistance.

Fortunately, in October of 2014, he was offered a job at Walgreens and the Manager of the store, Mr. Chris Leemon, took a special interest in helping my son succeed; he has been the kind of mentor and advocate that many of us may have only once in our lives, if at all.  He’s always been clear and respectful about expectations, but also sensitive and tolerant when symptoms interfered with the ability to get to work or perform optimally.

Mr. Leemon has created a milieu at the store that fosters a generous amount of acceptance, and he consistently tells my son that he’s performing better than he thinks. During a particularly challenging period, he approved a personal leave of absence for many weeks. He then arranged a new work schedule to increase my son’s chances of getting to work on time and feeling confident interacting with the public; he now has co-workers he enjoys, and whenever I stop in to pick up a few things, my heart is touched by how well he is regarded and treated by the staff and shift managers. They seem to genuinely appreciate how thoughtful, humorous and kind my son is, and I’m grateful that others can see the attributes that our family cherishes as well.  

We’ll never be able to thank Mr. Leemon enough for the role he has played in this employment experience. He will be leaving the store soon to pursue a much deserved promotion, and we wish him the very best. If I were to create a job for Mr. Leemon, it would be to teach other motivated supervisors how coaching and support can enhance a life as well as create a loyal employee.