Ensuring the workplace is inclusive and fair is an essential part of an HR professional’s role. Tackling poor attitudes around disability and creating a positive workplace culture for disabled people is a major part of this.
According to the charity Scope, almost one in five (19 per cent) working adults are disabled, and disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people. Scope also highlight that one in three disabled people feel there’s a lot of disability prejudice and one of three people see disabled people as being less productive than non-disabled people.
The Government is leading the way in helping overcome discrimination and get more disabled people working. In 2018 they announced a new £40 million voluntary scheme in England and Wales to help disabled people who are long-term unemployed get back into work. The scheme aims to provide personalised packages of support for people who are at least a year away from moving into work, with the target of supporting 10,000 disabled people over four years . The initiative focuses on giving people the skills and confidence to get back into the workplace.
It’s important for HR professionals to play their part too in creating a welcoming environment for disabled people. Here are some of the reasons why creating a disability-confident workplace makes good business sense:
1. Preparing for an ageing workforce
The personal circumstances of staff change over time. According to the Business Disability Forum an average of two per cent of the working-age population develop a disability every year. The incidence of disability increases post age 45. With an ageing workforce it is inevitable that more employees will develop a disability during their career. This means that organisations risk losing experience and talent unless they adopt an ethos of retaining staff whose circumstances change, either personally or because they are affected by disability.
2. Successful organisations embrace change and innovation
To develop new ideas, organisations need a workforce that can innovate, one that can draw on a range of perspectives and personal backgrounds, and one that reflects the societies they aim to serve. Employees with disabilities have often had to develop resourcefulness, creativity and the ability to look at situations differently to find solutions to manage their health condition. They are likely to bring these skills to the workplace, applying innovation and creativity when serving customers and drawing on their tenacity and resilience.
3. Looking beyond disability and employing people for their skill set
Employers that genuinely want to recruit and retain the best people must concentrate on ability, rather than disability, to maximise talent pools and utilise key skills. For example, an individual with autism may have the core skills needed for a role that requires dedication to routine tasks and spotting anomalies in large amounts of data. Employers can minimise any bias and ensure they get the best person for the job if they concentrate on key skills and competencies when recruiting.
4. Many potential customers will be disability aware
People with disabilities exercise choice about where they spend money and influence the spending patterns of their family and friends. It is estimated that one in three of the UK population has a disability or is close to someone who does – representing significant buying power. Organisations that have the knowledge and skills to interact with individuals with disabilities will be in a good position to gain a larger percentage of this market. Those that employ people with disabilities are more likely to have the insight and knowledge about how to provide the products and services that customers with an interest in disability want.
5. Turnover of employees with disabilities is often low
Loyalty and commitment to their employer is common among employees with disabilities. In particular, organisations that create opportunities for people who have been out of work for some time due to a disability are likely to reap rewards, as such employees are often motivated and keen to contribute fully to their workplace.
6. Minimising litigation and reputational risk
Finally, employers that create a disability-confident workplace will minimise the risk of litigation, potentially saving their organisation substantial costs. Successful disability discrimination claims under the Equality Act 2010 have no upper ceiling in terms of compensation, and managers and HR departments can spend a lot of time preparing for and attending employment tribunal hearings. An employer’s reputation can also be negatively affected by discrimination claims, potentially impacting future recruitment and the engagement and productivity of existing staff.
Actions HR professionals can take to create a disability-confident organisation
Understanding the reasons for creating a disability-confident organisation is the first step. The next is to take appropriate tactical actions across the business, such as putting in place effective policies for all aspects of organisational operations, including recruitment and talent management. Policy alone though won’t create equality of opportunity or an inclusive culture. It’s essential that training is given to all staff and particularly line managers to help them understand the organisation’s goals. This, alongside monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of policies, will translate the intent behind fair policies into inclusive practices and procedures across the organisation.
A combination of strong leadership, effective management and robust policies will help HR professionals create an inclusive organisation and support people with disabilities to be productive and fulfilled. It can also give the business a competitive edge and better understanding of their customers with disabilities, as well as help with recruitment and retention.
XpertHR offers further guidance on disability in the workplace in its good practice guide on disability.