How HR can help the workforce overcome the 'disability stigma'

How HR can help the workforce overcome the 'disability stigma'

More than a third of UK workers believe disability is still a barrier to career progression, despite anti-discrimination legislation.

The study, commissioned by PMI Health Group, part of Willis Towers Watson, found that nearly one in five also claimed employers fail to make adequate provisions to accommodate their, or their colleagues’, disabilities.

Speaking to HR Grapevine, Paul Avis, Marketing Director at Canada Life Group Insurance, advises on what employers can do to make UK workers believe that disability isn’t a barrier to progression.

“There’s a clear evidence base that when an employee becomes disabled the cost of reasonable adaptation, i.e. to comply with the equality act, are minimal,” he says.  

“The Positive About Disabled campaign, which is the double tick symbol, had the average adaption costing at approximately £200. With cost not a barrier, employers can also highlight the cost of the line manager not acting proactively. The kind of financial metrics that a line manager should be looking at are occupational/statutory sick pay, the cost of any ill health or early retirement provision, as well as the productivity loss and potential cost of things such as agency, bank, or locum staff.

“With the cost of adaption minimal when compared to the cost of non-adaption, which could potentially run into the hundreds of thousands, a manager should be encouraged and focussed to act on the absence and own the resolution of the disability.

“The facts around this are quite startling. The Health and Safety Executive estimate that every seven-day absence costs an employer £8,000 on average. Additionally, to recruit can cost up to £30,000 per employee.

“So, non-action by a line manager would mean that the costs mount up pretty quickly.

“Furthermore, as most line managers don’t like to deal with people specifically with mental health absences, it is good to know that, where we, through our Vocational Rehabilitation Early Intervention Service, can get 80% of employees back to work in the first six months with an average duration of seven weeks. Shortened to five weeks when the employer enables us to co-design the process. So, clearly, having an aspiration to return the employee back to work is the most important factor, when aligned with ownership and action by the manager.

“Disability diversity is the hardest area of work most employers will engage with because people get older, people are born as a woman or a man, people are born as a black or ethnic minority: the difference with disability is it can happen instantaneously. That is why the employee has two challenges, the personal challenge of coming to terms with the disability, and then managing the relationship with an employer who may struggle to use all the services, benefits and procedures/policies that they have in place when they have said they would.

“If the employer lets the employee down during this stage, then that’s where it begins to fall apart and so ownership and clarity is key.

“Many employers have everything in place and services such as employee assistant programmes, or benefits such as Group Income Protection and private medical care, are an expense who can return great results - but only when used. So ask yourself: are these components used at the right time to maximise the chance of the employee retuning to work and whose job is it to make sure they are - HR, manager, Occupational Health?

“Finally, all the research says that those who are retained are more loyal and more productive than those who have not been through the process.” 

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