Emma Zwager

Current Role: Programme Manager


Being there really matters


Read Emma’s story to learn why she wanted to stay with us as a working mum. Find out how our flexibility and support helped Emma get through some tough times with her physical and mental health, and what she’s learnt from it all.


“My journey with Tesco began when I started my family. And I’ve been with Tesco – and they’ve been with me – through everything. They gave me flexibility, before flexible working was even a thing. I could start later, finish earlier, take the time I needed, then make it up. Always with the full support of my line managers and directors. I've been very fortunate. It helps if you have a good work ethic and are flexible, too. It’s about finding that balance, isn't it?


My daughter was about a year and a half old when I first joined. She’s now 25, which is the age I was when I started working here. I've never really had any problems around gaining the balance I needed as a working mum. I've always been able to drop her off to school or pick her up if she was poorly. Tesco has been very good about that. Clearly, I wouldn't have stayed somewhere for so long if I hadn't had that kind of support.

“They gave me flexibility, before flexible working was even a thing.”

My parents’ health issues have also meant that I need more flexibility. For the past eight years my dad’s been really unwell. He’s undergone several major surgeries. Now he's elderly, we’re also dealing with underlying health problems. I'm the one that manages the hospital appointments. I need to be there to make sure I know all the facts, so I can process, plan, and put contingencies in place. There was a period of time when it was pretty tough.


I’ve gone through some of my own mental health problems recently. And it’s been pointed out to me that I’m a part-time carer, but I hadn’t thought about it like that until now. Things got harder when my mum became really unwell with COVID-19. We'd been so careful because of my dad, never really thinking she’d be the one that ended up in hospital. She had pneumonia and a sepsis infection of her lungs. It's been quite unpleasant. And when I hit the perimenopause, it just tipped me over the edge. Everyone has a limit, and I’d reached mine.

“You shouldn't have to suffer in silence.”

A lot of the symptoms leading up to the menopause are very similar to depression. There’s the brain fog of course. But the main thing for me was the crippling anxiety. From absolutely nowhere. It knocks your self-confidence and snowballs. I'd literally got to the point where I was so emotional. Crying at the drop of a hat and not being able to stop, for no reason. It was awful. But I only went to the doctor because it really started to affect my physical health.


It’s one of those taboo subjects that people don't really understand or talk about. It’s why a lot of women feel the support isn’t there. And they're right, it isn't. But you shouldn't have to suffer in silence. Thankfully, my doctor signed me off for three months. I talked to my line manager and HR about a phased return during that three-month period, that’s exactly what we did. They were brilliant. It's not just about taking time off work. It's also about your workload, how you’re feeling, and how you're able to deal with things.

“We should talk about it and make others aware.”

The support available at Tesco helped me to realise I wasn’t alone. I started one day a week with a reduced workload, and we had a review every four weeks to see where we were.


There was a constant conversation around, "How are you feeling today? Anything you want to talk about? Anything worrying you?" Knowing the support was available and that people weren’t judging was really key for me. It helps to build your confidence back and make you feel a bit more normal. Whatever normal is.


Most of us don't like to admit when there’s a problem. But actually, we should talk about it and make others aware. It's very easy to put a smile on your face at work and at home. Carry on your daily life as normal. But it’s not a weakness to admit that you need help – it’s a strength. And help is out there, you just need to ask for it. My advice? Be curious. Be brave. Be open. For everyone, the pandemic has been a particularly tough time. I don't think I've spoken to a single colleague who hasn't been impacted in some way. And it’s brought mental health problems to the forefront.

“I genuinely love coming to work. Absolutely love it.”

I genuinely love coming to work. Absolutely love it. I can honestly say in that all the time I've worked for Tesco, it’s been the same. It really has. And I love the people I work with. Whenever you speak to any Tesco colleague, they always say it's about the people and it so is. Compared to other places I’ve worked, the difference here is quite refreshing. I'm very thankful that I still work for Tesco. I’ll probably stay until I retire.


Tesco has been with me on this journey and supported me at every step. I think that's something that should be celebrated. It’s important to have that relationship with your employer because you spend so much of your time at work. And I'm just myself. This is one of the most important things, isn't it? You should be able to be yourself at work, whoever you are or whatever background you come from. It's important to find somewhere you feel you belong. And that’s what Tesco is trying to offer everyone."

Are you looking for the flexibility that matters? Do you want to work somewhere you feel supported? Then you should talk to us. We’ll welcome everything you are and be there every step of the way.

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