The Go-To Guy: Philemon’s Employment Journey
“I’m like, the go-to guy…Anything that anybody needs, they come to my desk.”
Philemon works for Minto as a Concierge in an upscale condo building in Ottawa. He is the smiling face most people see when they first walk into the building; Philemon is the go-to guy who enjoys doing what he does best: working with people.
Work wasn’t always like this for him. Philemon’s mental illness played a role in creating barriers for employment, and so did his own doubts about what he was capable of.
Philemon got his first job at 16 years old. Thinking back to his first job experiences in his teens, Philemon remembers how difficult it was to maintain employment. Philemon has bipolar disorder and spent some time in the hospital and group homes to get the care and support he needed to manage it. He found these experiences interfered with his mood and his motivation to find work.
“I’ve had times that due to my illness I was not able to work,” he explains. “With my illness I would sometimes – not hide myself, but I would pull back from the world and be in my own little zone. If I had to do anything differently, if I had got out of my shell a bit sooner, then I would have experienced the success that I’m experiencing right now a bit sooner.”
Philemon always had an interest in working with people. He actually went to college for social work and geriatrics, and wanted to find work in that field. Philemon wanted to explore opportunities, but wasn’t really sure where to start. He had been to Causeway years earlier to access the gym, but decided that he would give Causeway’s employment programs a try this time.
Philemon started in Causeway’s Job Quest program in 2015 and met with his Employment Support Specialist to develop a solid resume and cover letter. At the time, his main goal was to find work in the social service field and, with Causeway’s help, he found an opportunity to work as a counsellor for children with developmental disabilities. After about a year, Philemon came back to Causeway because he wanted to look into other options for work. While his goal was still to work in the social service sector, a conversation during the program intake process with Margarita Alfonso, Causeway’s Resource Centre and Program Intake Coordinator at the time, had Philemon considering other options. Margarita felt that because he was fluently bilingual in French and English, Philemon could find great job prospects in the customer service sector, particularly in a bank setting.
“I mentioned something like ‘I see you working as a manager there!’. We both laughed and he did confirm that he was going to give it a try,” Margarita recalled.
With a good resume in hand and a few practice interviews completed, Philemon felt prepared for a job interview at TD Bank that he got after visiting a job fair.
“Before Causeway, it was kind of difficult [looking for work]. I remember what I used to do – I use to go out and hand out resumes individually, and I also sent resumes online. But I [found] with Causeway it was a more structured approach. They help you with more than just finding a job.”
The hard work at Causeway paid off and Philemon was hired as a Customer Service Representative at TD Bank. During his two years there, Philemon continued working out in the gym at Causeway, flourished at work, and was even promoted to a more specialized role at the bank. He paid Causeway a visit during this time and Margarita remembers seeing him walk into the Resource Centre in his bank manager uniform with a look on his face that she can only describe as pure joy and fulfillment.
Philemon’s excellent track record at work led to another opportunity to work at Scotiabank. During his three years there, Philemon won the Best of the Best 2020 prize from Scotiabank for best customer service and outstanding performance – something he never could have imagined for himself.
“In school I was never the math whiz or anything, so for me to actually work in a bank and be successful – if you would have told me that in my early 20s, or when I was in high school, I would have just completely laughed,” Philemon chuckles. “But the fact that I actually did it and I won some prizes while I was working in those banks makes me realize that I was really doubting myself for nothing.”
While many things were going well for Philemon during his time at Scotiabank, he also experienced some setbacks to his mental health. As a result, he had to take sick leave, but it wasn’t an issue with his employer. Philemon speaks highly of his recent employers for having policies in place for employees who need to take sick leave for mental health reasons. His employment was safe and Philemon, the award-winning customer service representative, was able to access the care he needed to feel well again.
When asked what he thought about disclosing a mental illness at work, Philemon believes that it’s an important first step to getting the support you need.
“If you have any kind of mental illness and you think it’s impeding your work, don’t be shy to share your illness with your employer…From my experience, because at Scotia[bank] I took time off and I told them it was because of my mental illness, and they were totally accommodating, so I just think, don’t suffer in silence. Just talk, open your mouth and talk and explain, because if they don’t know, there’s nothing they can do for you.” Though not everyone has the same experiences with their employer, it is worth seeking support from a trusted source – whether that be your employer, friend, or community resource – if you are going through a difficult time at work because of a mental health issue.
While on sick leave, Philemon decided to take stock of his employment and take a look at his options. As a people-person, he wanted to find opportunities to continue doing what he loves outside of the financial sector. His first step? To come back to Causeway for support. Even after Philemon experienced great successes throughout his career, he thought to come back to Causeway to access the supportive network of employment services and people.
Philemon got the job and has been working as a Concierge for Minto ever since.
When reflecting on his career path and the support he received from Causeway, Philemon realized that his own self-doubt was his worst enemy. “One of my biggest barriers that I’ve had – not just for work, but in life in general – is doubting myself,” says Philemon. “I find that’s something I’m still dealing with, but the more I put myself out there, the less doubt I have and the better I do.”
Mental illness does carry stigma and can unfairly place assumptions on people of what they are capable of. Philemon realized that with the right supports, he could explore what his strengths were and see what he was capable of doing.
“After coming to Causeway and putting myself out there, and actually experiencing some success I realized that all those barriers I was putting on myself were self-made barriers…It really made me realize that most of the battle is in the mind. If you can get your mind right, then there’s really nothing you can’t do.”
Philemon’s journey to rewarding employment spans across many years and he wasn’t always sure of where it would take him. Philemon isn’t shy about trying something new, and when he was ready to take on new opportunities, he knew that Causeway would be there to support him. Regardless.
“To be honest with you, Causeway for me is a no-brainer. Anytime that I don’t have employment, or I just want to go exercise at the gym, Causeway is a no-brainer for me, it’s a great organization. I can only say good things about it.”
To Philemon, Work Regardless resonates on a personal and introspective level.
“When I hear the words “work, regardless,” what it means to me is work regardless of your doubt, work regardless of your fear, and work regardless of the outcome. If you have fear and doubt, you won’t be able to do anything, but if you do what you’re supposed to do, usually the outcome is going to be the positive outcome.”