Living and Working with HIV

SAP employee Joerg Beissel is open about having HIV and uses it as a means of supporting a company initiative that seeks to prevent discrimination against those who are HIV-positive.

The initial diagnosis was a shock; the period that followed, a process of self-discovery. For two long years, Beissel, a senior facility specialist in Global Real Estate and Facilities at SAP, struggled with the idea of telling his colleagues at work that he had contracted HIV. A conversation with his manager would prove both enlightening and liberating.

“You’re Fine Just the Way You Are”

Photo via Joerg Beissel

Beissel still feels grateful when he remembers how his manager took the news. “He jumped up, gave me a big hug, and thanked me for the tremendous amount of trust I’d showed him,” he recalls. Bolstered by this reaction, Beissel opened up to more and more colleagues and discovered how much weight was falling off his shoulders. Notwithstanding the personal shame one might feel, being HIV-positive is not a medically relevant concern in most working environments. In fact, transmission is virtually impossible when those with the virus are undergoing therapy.

For all that time, it was the fear of discrimination based on irrational misgivings about contracting HIV, or outdated ideas of what living with it is like, that kept Beissel silent.

He now talks about the pressure he put on himself at work before making his condition known when he often pushed past his own personal limits. These days, he can be himself again. “HIV no longer affects my professional life, at least in terms of how I’ve regained that sense of freedom,” Beissel says. “It’s given me back my creativity.”

His personal decision to take this step ultimately motivated Beissel to address the subject of HIV publicly in society – and at the office in particular. Along with Ernesto Marinelli, global human resources business partner lead for Global Customer Operations and head of Human Resources Business Partners for EMEA North, EMEA South, MEE, and Greater China Region, he signed an employer declaration on behalf of SAP against the discrimination of HIV-positive people in the workplace on June 12. That made him the company’s first ‘positive face’ of the condition.