Why do businesses find it hard to employ a disabled person?
Who remembers Boys From The Blackstuff? Alan Bleasdale’s brilliant TV epic about the economic and social degradation wrought on northern England by the Thatcher years. It’s the show that introduced us to the character of Yosser Hughes, unemployed and empty, desperate and begging for work. “Gizza’ a job, I can do that!” was his mantra. Well here’s the thing, because even as fruitless as Yosser’s search for work was, his chances were still a heck of a lot better than those of the average disabled person in today’s workplace.
But let’s start with the good news: in 2017 the UK Government set a target of getting one million more disabled people into work over a 10-year period. By working in partnership with employers, charities, healthcare providers and local authorities, they would introduce and implement a series of measures, such as in-work programmes, personalised financial and employment support, and specialist healthcare services. Together, these would help more people and give them the opportunity to go as far as their talents may take them.
According to the government statement at the time, they were committed to not only getting people into work but helping them to remain and progress so they can reap the rewards of having a job.
So, how’s that working out then?
Yosser!… any thoughts?
We could be forgiven for thinking that businesses find it hard to employ a disabled person
Despite all the efforts to increase the employment of people with disabilities, the unacceptable fact is that the majority of the people with disabilities of working age are still unemployed. Regardless of the government’s ambition, the latest data from the Office of National Statistics tells the depressing story of a barely registrable 5% increase since 2017. If we continue at this pace a mere 5,800 disabled people will have entered work by 2027, which is just a bit shy of the target of 1 million.
So, what’s to account for this woeful performance? The answer should not surprise us.
We might believe that a person with a disability should be included in the world of work as an equal to any other citizen and that he/she can obtain all the privileges that come with employment. But for many employers – in fact for the majority of UK businesses – there is a fear based on ignorance when recruiting people with disabilities.
What are you afraid of?
First question an employer may ask is:
“How much will this cost my business? What’s the likely spend in equipment and infrastructure and how can I afford it?”
In reality, the cost of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a disabled employee is often low. And where, for instance, an individual may need special aids and equipment, that person can apply to the Access to Work programme for grant support.
“What about all the additional supervision and there’s just no way that a disabled person can be as productive as someone without a disability.”
But, as with any work situation, it is a case of matching the right job with the right person and managing employees to their maximum performance. True, an employer may have to make an adjustment to accommodate a person with a disability, but that is to help them perform at the same level as other workers, not to compromise the performance standards and to lower them.
Then there is:
“Won’t our customers and other staff be nervous around them?”
Sadly, almost a quarter (23%) of employers feel their colleagues would not be happy working with someone with a disability. And 45% fear it might be difficult for the public to deal with someone with a disability. Encouragingly, when an employer has had experience of employing someone with a disability they readily acknowledge that their fear is unfounded. They realise that having a workforce that mirrors the diversity of its own customers and the public at large can only be good for business. And they realise that such a positive message can help a business gain long-term loyalty from its customers.
And the workforce gains too. At first, people will often not know how to act. They’ll ask questions like: “Do I push someone’s wheelchair or not? How much help should I give someone with a visual impairment, and how do I talk to them if they can’t see me?”
But if people speak openly and with honesty, and if there is a willingness to be flexible, it is possible to create a workplace that’s genuinely welcoming and inclusive to everyone, resulting in an improved morale, higher productivity, reduced staff turnover and bottom-line benefits.
Look at what you’re missing out on?
Finding the right talent is hard. Yet many businesses do themselves no favours by fishing in the same shallow pools. And if they even think about actively encouraging a diverse workforce the focus is only on the ‘easy wins’ like gender and ethnicity.
But study after survey, after research paper after empirical report, demonstrate that workers with a disability are significantly longer serving, that there is no difference between the productivity of disability and non-disability workers, and that attendance, engagement and effectiveness are equal, if not better.
So, if a business wants to be truly diverse, and successful, it needs to get the right people through the door and to be prepared to adjust rigid working practices to support the progression of all its people.