It’s good to talk- how to have empowering conversations about disability, health and hiring
By David Chapman
There’s an old saying that it’s good to talk. For modern organisations and businesses pondering how to get the most out of their diversity and inclusion practices, it’s more relevant than ever.
There are economic and social reasons why incorporating more diversity and inclusion in your hiring regime makes sense.
New Zealand is in the midst of a chronic skills and labour shortage, one that Auckland Professor of Management Jarrod Harr has described as the worst in 50 years.
However, despite that labour crunch, despite the struggle of practically every industry in every part of the country to find workers, almost two-thirds of the country’s working-age disabled are unemployed. Stuck on the bench.
Research done by Workbridge, an organisation that helps disabled and others with mental and physical health conditions find work, while connecting businesses to the skills they need, shows that this is costing the country more than $1 billion a year in lost tax revenue alone.
That cost has a social element as well.
Whether as employees, company directors or customers, stakeholders within a company should reflect the communities they operate in, in order to honour the perceived social licence they claim. And as the figures show, disabled people are very much under-represented in the workforce and within businesses.
There is a place in all organisations for a more open and supportive working environment, for disabled and non-disabled. Employees shouldn’t feel uncertain or ashamed to such an extent that they are unable to discuss their unique situation with an employer.
Because it’s good to talk.
There are several reasons why employers might look past employing a disabled person.
- They jump to conclusions without any real basis for concern, such as health and safety.
- They perceive an increase in time, energy and money required to hire a person that may need special accommodations.
- A fear of the unknown: hiring managers with little experience managing disabled or health-impacted employees may have more questions about their own ability to manage that person in certain situations.
But what does the evidence show?
- An Australian survey of employers (1) showed that disabled people have one-sixth the recorded workplace health and safety incidents, compared with non-disabled.
- Disabled people are far less likely to have an accident in the workplace than non-disabled.
- Anecdotal evidence from employers who have used Workbridge jobseekers suggests the employees tend to be more loyal and hard-working than many non-disabled employees, and often embrace the flexibility sought by the business.
Sadly, that lack of confidence can be experienced by the prospective employee as well. Why is that:
- A trepidation when discussing health and disability issues with an employer.
- Surveys of current employees that show few who are disabled or have disabilities, because so few are willing to identify as a disabled person over a fear of retribution. This means some businesses can appear unsupportive of diversity and inclusion, especially when it means disability.
- Misconceptions about an employee’s disability or condition. For example, a person experiencing anxiety and depression is passed over for promotion because the organisation “doesn’t want to put too much stress on them”. That might lead to increased anxiety, depression, and a growing lack of confidence, and the organisation can then wrongly reassure itself that it was right in the first place, and the candidate was indeed unsuitable for promotion.
- A failure to effectively communicate with employees around disability and health issues, leading to assumptions based on non-clinical hunches.
So there is a great deal at stake, economically and for a business to maintain its social licence. How do we boost confidence of both employers and employees:
- Acknowledge that organisations and employees both have a role to play in building disability confidence.
- Organisations need to challenge themselves to look past their initial fears and apprehensions in their hiring processes.
- They should see it as a positive opportunity to increase the confidence and skills of managers in this area of disability confidence.
- Employees need to take responsibility for and be supported to discuss areas in which they may require additional support. An organisation can be much more effective in supporting a disabled person if they are aware of that individual’s situation and support needs.
- Engage organisations like Workbridge to help negotiate these difficult conversations and develop support plans that work for the disabled person and the organisation.
- Be confident that those plans are often not as onerous or expensive as perceived.
Talk, because it’s good to talk.
Creating working environments that encourage and support diversity and inclusion can only be positive. Workbridge and Just Say Yes can help you as an individual or an organisation increase disability confidence.
Written by David Chapman-Employment Relationship Manager at Workbridge
 Graffam, J., Smith, K., Shinkfield, A.and Polzin, U. (2002). Employer benefits and costs of employing someone with a disability. Melbourne: Institute of Disability Studies, Deakin University. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 17, 251-263.