Taking care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally can be a challenge for anyone managing work and home life. For employees with disabilities, the aim to successfully manage disability-related needs amid other responsibilities, including work, can make self-care even more challenging.
Employers can play a critical role to support self-care for employees with disabilities. Research proves employees are more productive and engaged when they’re happy at work. Conversely, workplace stress generally produces higher turnover, higher healthcare costs, and lower productivity. As a result, employers who create a culture of self-care in the workplace are more likely to experience overall business growth as a result of having engaged, healthy employees.
Formal employee wellness/wellbeing programs are on the rise in businesses of all industries and sizes. In fact, they are consistently included as a part of some companies’ benefits packages. Strong programs provide tools, resources, support that can include activities focused on stress reduction, weight loss, and smoking cessation. Other common programs include health risk assessments, health screenings, exercise and nutrition activities, and vaccination clinics.
How can I establish an Inclusive Culture of Self-Care in the Workplace?
Whether you’re planning to develop an extensive employee wellness program, or implementing a few wellness strategies, here are a few ideas to help you establish and cultivate a culture of self-care within your workplace that’s inclusive of employees with disabilities:
- Encourage Mindfulness – Many companies are incorporating mindfulness into their employee wellness programs, as it has proven to help employees take a proactive approach to managing their mental health, stress, and emotions in the workplace. For some employers, this includes hosting mindfulness practices, such as meditation trainings, lunchtime chair massages, or yoga sessions, including adaptive yoga for employees with disabilities. Others encourage use of free meditation apps, such as Headspace and Calm.
- Offer Flexible Work Schedules – Employees with flexible work schedules are often more satisfied, as this allows them to better control their overall schedules and manage emergencies. For employees with disabilities, there are typically even greater benefits. Opportunities for flexible work schedules eliminate the need for stressful commutes; allow the ability to plan around disability-related needs, including doctors’ appointments and medication; and provide freedom to live in locations that are more beneficial for their needs (i.e. warmer climates).
- Promote Physical Health, Including Adequate Rest – Physically healthy employees, including those who get enough rest, generally experience less exhaustion, more productivity, and reduced healthcare costs. Employers can encourage physical health in a variety of ways, from providing healthy snacks in break rooms and vending machines, to offering in-house workout classes or discounts/reimbursements for gym memberships. Additionally, some employers host activity groups, such as exercise clubs. Employers should allow space for each employee, no matter their physical abilities, to participate in such groups in whatever capacity they are able.
- Celebrate Employees’ Work – Simply taking time to acknowledge employees work and accomplishments can significantly boost morale. Whether it’s hitting a big milestone or managing a customer conflict, managers should seek out opportunities to affirm their employees for a job well-done. Not only does this prompt greater employee loyalty, but it also helps employees view their supervisors as trustworthy and feel more satisfied in their jobs. Even still, some employers set aside specific celebration days, such as Employee Appreciation Day in March or Administrative Professionals Week in April, to purposefully plan something for their employees.
- Encourage Breaks, Including PTO – Taking regular breaks, ideally away from the work environment, can provide much needed rejuvenation. This includes taking a full lunch break away from the computer, along with mid-morning/afternoon breaks to refocus. Additionally, employers should foster a culture that encourages employees to take time off. Whether this is a longer vacation that’s been planned, or a “mental health day,” employees should feel comfortable taking earned leave, and expectations regarding checking email and phone messages while taking leave should be communicated.
- Set Realistic Expectations Around Technology Use – Constant access to technology often creates unspoken expectations regarding employee response times to emails and other messages. Employers should clearly communicate expectations about the types of circumstances that should warrant immediate response (i.e. an emergency), especially after work hours. Ideally, employees should be given opportunities to set their own communication boundaries that support their work styles. For some, this may mean immediately responding to emails at any time to help reduce their overall tasks. For others, this could mean setting strict time boundaries around when they will and will not respond to messages. This is especially helpful for employees with neurocognitive disabilities that perform best with structure and schedules.
- Provide Social Support – Employees who are a part of a supportive work environment also prove to be happier and more productive. Employers should facilitate opportunities for employees to build relationships among their coworkers, including creating collaborative work spaces, hosting in- and out-of-office bonding activities, and developing internal mentorship programs. Workplace mentoring proves especially beneficial for employees with disabilities. Among other benefits, receiving guidance and support from mentors can help employees with disabilities navigate new work environments and relationships, identify and request appropriate accommodations to help ensure their success, and provide ideas to help with career growth.
In addition to incorporating wellness programs, some companies are partnering with consulting firms like The Energy Project to help them assess their practices and support employee growth through a scientifically-based approach to energizing people, ultimately helping employees perform at their best.
Companies that desire to retain employees and ensure overall employee satisfaction should make employee self-care a priority. For more ideas on how to incorporate self-care practices for employees with disabilities in your workplace, or to learn how you can better support your own self-care, contact the Getting Hired team.