2020 has been a hard year for everyone, especially those working in the service sector who cannot work at home from their laptop, like our team here at Zest. I joined the team partway into the Covid crisis in August, after having left a job where I was treated quite poorly. Entering a new work environment during such a globally intense time was scary, especially as a trans non-binary person. Would my new boss and colleagues use my chosen name and pronouns? Would I be subject to the uncomfortable jokes that were reoccurring at my last job? I couldn’t afford to not work after leaving my previous job.
I specifically applied to Zest Café because I knew they offered the extra staff training that my previous employment lacked and aimed to hire those who faced employment barriers. I’ve learned that being trans certainly counts as one of those, but I didn’t realise until I began working here just how seriously Lisa and the entire team take their mission of inclusivity and mutual support. More than just respect my name and pronouns, my co-workers and boss actively try to understand and ask how they can make me more comfortable. When I first introduced myself with my preferred pronouns to a fellow staff member, she simply smiled and said hello with her own name and pronouns. It was such a relief to realise that I’d found a place which cared for me beyond the labour I provide.
Having now worked here several months I continue to be awed by how supportive the staff is of one another. When someone is having a bad day, we switch positions and jobs in the café with ease. If someone needs extra training or help learning a task, others are happy to lend a hand or a couple pointers, and Lisa schedules staff-led training sessions. When a customer is unkind you can always count on having someone check you’re okay. Even through such a stressful time as 2020, Zest maintains a sense of community between staff-members and a strong emphasis on education and personal growth.
I never quite realised how much there was to learn both about coffee and service, but also about workplace diversity, support, and teamwork until working at Zest.
Everyone has personal struggles and barriers they face, whether in employment, education-access, physical ability, et al. I happen to be lucky enough to both attend the University of St Andrews fulltime pursuing and undergraduate degree and be employed part-time at Zest. I’m so grateful to have meaningful employment as well as a bright future, hopefully in academia. But some days these privileges feel tepid or not worthwhile given my disability.
I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome Hypermobility Type in January 2020. These diagnoses came following years of constant physical pain since the age of seven (I didn’t even know that not everyone was always aching until I was 14). These disabilities both have long symptom lists, are relatively invisible unless you require a mobility aid, and are largely untreatable. I personally am most impacted by the symptoms of ongoing fatigue and widespread pain, with any serious flare-ups often leaving me bed bound for a week at a time.
On weeks like these I spend a lot of time thinking. I think a lot about the futility of my employment and education when I’m unable to practice and make the most of it. I think about how disappointed my employer or teachers must be in me. I think about the potential of losing my job or other opportunities because I’m out of commission for the week. Usually this thinking ends up with me attending classes and work despite the pain and making it worse for longer.
Just a month ago I messaged my co-workers at Zest for the first time looking for cover due to a flare-up. I was nervous how they’d respond and if they’d treat me differently, like an invalid or like I wasn’t pulling my weight at the café. But they weren’t angry or disappointed or dismissive like past employers and co-workers had been. I was taken seriously. I had the week off from work but was allowed to return as soon as I said I was ready. The amount of relief I felt was almost overwhelming. A life-work balance is so much harder to maintain when you add in university, let alone a disability on top. The flexibility of hours and scheduling that Zest gives makes it that much more accessible to someone like me who is juggling life, work, education, and a disability all at once.