Can you tell us about yourself and your family?
Hi, I’m Mark and I’m a Divisional Director in Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing. I have been with my wife Kelly for 25 years and we have a son called Lewis who is going to be 14 in November.
Lewis was diagnosed at age three with autism and has what is considered ‘classic ASD’, so he has the full triad of impairment’s which means he has difficulty with social interaction, communication and imagination. For example, he does not have the ability to understand his own feelings - if he has a tummy ache he thinks he’s hungry so will continue to eat and make it worse because he doesn’t understand. Although he is now nearly 14 years old, he is very much a four year old in how he behaves and thinks.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted your family?
As with most families, the news of the pandemic was shocking and having to lock-down had a big impact on our lives. Lock-down created a series of challenges for Lewis as people with autism often rely on routine and structure to help feel comfortable. Lewis has the ability to structure daily, weekly and monthly schedules; for example, he knows Wednesdays we go to Costa Coffee and in August we go to Italy, but this year we didn’t as it was cancelled so we’ve had to realign his thought processes.
It has been hard to explain why our usual activities have been cancelled as Lewis has difficulties understanding what Covid-19 is. And because Lewis can’t understand why we aren’t able to go to places he likes going he believes he is being punished as usually those would be his punishments if he got in trouble.
In order to help Lewis understand what was happening, my wife and I had to make Covid-19 an entity so that Lewis has something to blame for not being able to do things.
How has working at Howden been since the pandemic started?
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, my business leaders were very quick to show their support for their people at that very uncertain time. Regular updates on workplace (our internal comms platform) were extremely comforting and made such a positive impact on my experience of lock-down as it helped take some of the stress of uncertainty away.
The main message I have received from Howden is that family comes first and I really feel this is an embedded belief here, not just words. The ‘family first’ philosophy means a lot to me as I am able to be a dad first, husband second, son third, insurance broker fourth – which is the way it should be. This belief has meant I am the best broker I can be as it has allowed the needs of my family to be met, therefore I can focus on work.
The option to work more flexibly has really helped reduce the potential stress that lock-down could have caused. For instance, I have found that my most productive thinking can happen at 10pm once Lewis has gone to bed as I have time to really focus without any interruptions.
How have you and your colleagues adapted to working from home?
My colleagues are always checking in on the family and asking me if there is any way they can help take something off my plate which I really appreciate. They also forgive the often loud interruptions from Lewis (he has some amazing comic timing).
I think we’re a true team and I feel a sense of togetherness to navigate through these challenging times, which shows how Howden has created a really special culture that really runs throughout. The support and care I have been shown during this period has meant that I feel this real surge of loyalty and respect for Howden.