Dr. Philip S. Wang, of the National Institute of Mental Health Alliance for Research Progress in Bethesda, MD states, "Some data is emerging that employer interventions can improve productivity and reduce employee turnover - an important result because it can cost a company a year of wages to replace a worker. It appears the more one spends to intervene, the more 'depression-free' days one gets. It remains possible for employers to actually save more than they spend on enhanced depression treatment, because of the increased productivity and not having to replace skilled workers.”
This statement yields a profound insight that should provide serious forethought to all employers with robust diversity initiatives to actively hire people with various (physical or hidden) disabilities. It conveys that employers can actually implement strategic programs and initiatives that may optimize the contributions of the diverse talent they look to covet. It also states that many of these focused efforts on the part of employers may translate into a significant reduction of potential costly attrition rates, higher levels of optimum "readiness" and increased tangible productivity that can dramatically impact an organizations 'bottom-line' and yield better return on investment.
Most importantly, implementing tactical support programs and proactive intervention strategies provides valuable tools for employers to move beyond the simple motivations of altruism and propaganda towards people with disabilities to truly reinforcing and capitalizing on the business case. It also helps to protect employers from the helpless vulnerability of potential personal and professional individual employee frustrations (often unfairly assumed with employees with disabilities) that can lead to disruption, 'walk-offs,' burn-out, other common challenges and possible termination.
The tangible impact of intervention towards employees with various physical and hidden challenges
A recently published Sedwick Study titled ”Stress in the Workplace” demonstrates that employers can spend an additional $70 billion each year on lost productivity and increased absenteeism due to untreated or ineffectively treated mental health disorders. For many employers, some may see this simply as a justifiable deterrent towards actively and purposely hiring people with disabilities - particularly those with mental health challenges. However, like the Sedwick research, there are an abundance of other studies that vividly emphasizes the exact opposite perspective and acknowledges the more positive consequences and contributions associated with employing people with hidden and physical disabilities. Other research such as the study developed by The National Technical Assistance Policy and Research Center for Employers on Employment of People with Disabilities suggest the following:
"Hiring people with disabilities can positively affect your 'bottom line' by tapping into the creativity and innovativeness of individuals who have a lifetime experience of learning and adjusting. Enhanced competitiveness translates into revenues."
- Workers with disabilities improve productivity through innovation, creativity and tools which benefit all employees
- Employing diverse workers opens access to new markets and business opportunities
- Inclusive workplace environments increase retention and reduce hiring and training cost
All things considered, what makes the difference between successful diversity employment endeavors with people with disabilities vs. other organizations that seem to experience costly employment challenges associated with stress, absenteeism, frustrations, and other health-related issues?
The answers often boil down to subtle nuances associated with proactively addressing the small intangibles such as: corporate policy, support and socio-environmental issues, proper management techniques with employees and demonstrating a vested interest into the issues that can dramatically impact the personal lives of individual employees (this includes flexibility.)
Policy, support and socio-environmental issues within the workplace revolves mostly around ensuring a workplace that is uplifting, safe, fair and comfortable. Providing various employee motivations such as financial incentives, acknowledgement and promotional opportunities can have a positive impact on recruitment and retention. Other proactive corporate actions can enhance the opportunity for retention such as promoting diversity education and highlighting the use of proper disability etiquette among staff, enforcing parking restrictions in designated disability spaces, achieving ADA and EEO compliance, providing needed employee accommodations and demanding all forms of representation and respect for diverse employees and customers. While these some-what subtle, basic 'ground rule' courtesies may seem normal and simplistic, I can assure you that it is not universal and that every individual workplace environment has its share of unique challenges, distinctions and unfavorable cultural characteristics - primarily based on the perspectives, values and daily interactions of its employees. Many issues related to monolithic recruiting and promotional practices, prevalent social misconceptions and overall tolerance of 'non-inclusive' practices towards people with various (physical and hidden) disabilities, can ultimately lead to negative outcomes such as toxic stigma, decreased motivation (negatively impacting productivity) and increased turn-over ratios.
Proper management techniques can make the difference towards optimization and retention. This can be manifested in paced work-loads, proper job-matching, providing frequent breaks and building productive relationships with employees that emphasize the foundational elements for establishing vital trust. Managers and supervisors can serve a key role towards employee retention if they are motivated and incentivized to do so. They can enhance a person with disabilities employment experience by simply being non-judgmental, patient, respectful, open-minded and knowledgeable about referring employees towards resources for personal and professional help.
A good manager or supervisor is also a leader that inspires other leaders instead of simply producing followers. This can include providing a career-path strategy for others junior employees within the organization, leading by example and stressing positive personal practices. Employees can be induced to take advantage of proper rest, nutrition, exercise and relaxation programs that help to enhance focus, achieve work/life balance and help employees perform at peak levels. Good managers can help promote corporate employee resource groups (ERG's) within the organization as well as increase participation in support groups. Truly effective managers often evaluate the work outcomes of employees (including those with disabilities) in a fair and positive manner with uplifting encouragement and a acknowledgement of good performance and solid work effort. Assigned mentors can also contribute to a pleasant and productive employer-employee relationship experience.
Support, understanding and investing into the personal lives and challenges of employees (including people with disabilities) can also make a tremendous difference towards retention. Sometimes, this is simply applying time flexibility for one to attend special medical appointments or an extending an additional amount of time for a person due to public transportation challenges or child care responsibilities. These extracurricular benefits should not come without a price of fairly over-compensating a person's workplace responsibilities. It is the act of making each individual employee feel valued and fairly appreciated for their contribution that results in all being inspired to do their best for the organization as a whole.
Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) diversity training program. He is also the author of the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities.