It’s crucial that employers which are serious about fostering an inclusive and supportive workplace look at whether disabled employees are comfortable disclosing their diagnoses or symptoms, says workplace wellbeing consultant Sarah Gashier. And, if they aren’t, employers need to look at why.
If you have no one disclosing a disability at all, there’s a good chance you have not created adequate levels of psychological safety in order for them to do so.
How can we so boldly speculate this link?
Well, because given that 1 in 5 of the UK population is disabled, and 80% of these individuals have a hidden disability, the vast majority of businesses will have disabled employees within their workforce.
The fact that less than a quarter (23%) of disabled people disclose their disability in a job application further raises concerns about the inclusivity of the workforce, argues Gashier.
Data from Evenbreak and YouGov’s study on disabled people’s perceptions of barriers to work also suggests that 30% think employers only hire disabled people to fill a quota.
We spoke to Gashier about the experiences that led her to regret disclosing her disability, concluding that – despite the hype around empathy at work – there’s a “noticeable lack of compassion” in most workplaces.
Sarah’s lived-experience of disclosing her disability:
“Wellbeing initiatives, though commendable, become meaningless without compassion.
True effectiveness lies in showing compassion, especially during challenging times like severe illness. Without it, workplaces can become amplifiers of human suffering.
During a severe health situation requiring a heart procedure, I received no compassion, even from an organisation outwardly valuing wellbeing.
Policies changed arbitrarily
I found policies were changed arbitrarily, with unclear definitions. And my experience aligns with research conducted by Dr. Jennifer Remnant on ‘How the workplace copes with people who may need additional support due to managing a long-term health condition’ (2023).
Unfortunately, people with disabilities remain largely underemployed, underpaid, under-promoted, and under-accommodated at work. They are 50% more likely to experience poverty compared to able-bodied people.
And for the ones that are in employment, the fact that many people, particularly in junior roles, feel uncomfortable being open about their disabilities speaks volumes about the existing workplace environment.
Most feel uncomfortable disclosing
Addressing these issues is not only morally right, but also essential for the success and wellbeing of organisations.
The business case for disability inclusion is compelling.
Disability-inclusive businesses not only perform better, demonstrating higher revenues, net income, and economic profit margins, but also effectively attract and retain talent, thereby addressing the disability employment gap.
However, despite these benefits, the current state reveals that disability is not yet fully integrated into standardised ESG metrics and reporting. But if companies are genuine about going beyond a tick box exercise, they need to routinely report on disability data.
Other practical learnings to be more inclusive of disabled employees:
- Leaders need to align their actions with company values; otherwise, insincerity breeds cynicism, eroding leadership credibility
- Invest in training and supporting line managers to promote an inclusive culture and respond to adjustment and flexible working requests
- Consult with staff to develop an inclusive approach to remote work through surveys, engaging with disability networks, and holding feedback sessions
- Explore supporting wider forms of flexibility, including compressed hours and job sharing
- DEI policies’ role should be to provide support – focus on disability inclusion and providing opportunities for growth and development
- Ensure employees understand these DEI policies and this role, otherwise it creates scepticism and inauthenticity
- Ensure your DEI policies incorporate various disability models. Many adhere to legal and medical models, but neglect the experiential aspect for individuals with disabilities and long-term conditions.
- leverage digital technologies to alleviate employment barriers reported by individuals with disabilities. This includes offering scheduling flexibility, accommodating limitations, and automating repetitive tasks
- Be mindful that, for young people with disabilities in particular, the journey to skill acquisition is marked by unique challenges, particularly when coupled with contingent work arrangements that provide limited access to employer-led job skills training
- Remember, productivity is about output, not hours worked
As current policies fail to grasp our unique needs, the solution isn’t merely throwing money at the problem. It’s about shaping the culture. Cultures, not tools, define a workplace. We need to build a culture of compassion. That is currently the crucial missing element.