Executive summary

There are genuine reasons why having staff with disabilities makes good business sense for organisations, not least of which are the cost of ignoring a large talent pool and unnecessary employee turnover. However, it seems that too few organisations are aware of the business case, or know how to increase the number of staff with disabilities.

Communicating standards

Codes of Practice, policies, and guidelines, if they are regarded as important, can have a powerful positive effect on the culture of an organisation and the experience of the employees. However, often overlooked but equally as important as introducing a Code of Practice or policy is the ownership of it by employees throughout the organisation. This can be derived by including staff in the development of documents, and effectively disseminating them throughout the organisation.

Research consistently finds that the most important indicator of the culture of an organisation is the leadership style of the most senior person in the organisation and his or her team. Senior organisational members act as powerful role models through their behaviour for what is and what is not acceptable behaviour within the organisation. A major reason for the frequent failure of culture change attempts in organisations has been found to be the attitudes and behaviours of the most senior managers. These findings underline the key importance of senior managers being visibly committed to increasing the numbers of staff with disabilities in their organisation.

Effective target setting and monitoring are also key to success in increasing the recruitment and retention of staff with disabilities. Therefore, it is important that organisations provide training in how to effectively set and monitor targets for managers at all levels, and they should provide clear leadership from one or more managers at the top of the organisation.

Preparing the organisation

Measures designed to increase employment equity, such as quotas and anti-discrimination legislation are not sufficient to address the barrier of negative attitudes that are frequently found towards the capabilities of people with disabilities. Research suggests that increasing contact with people with disabilities helps to reduce stereotypes and fears, and that knowing someone at work who has a disability is likely to lead to more inclusive attitudes towards disability and greater awareness of disability legislation. Therefore, organisations will benefit from a culture that is open to develop what may be new and innovative approaches to inclusion, such as work placements, work-shadowing and mentoring schemes.

Flexibility and accommodation are often essential to enable the recruitment and retention of staff with disabilities, and have been found to benefit the organisation and staff as a whole. However, if they are not attributes of the culture of an organisation towards its staff in general, a lack of flexibility or accommodation cannot only block the ability for people with disabilities to work for the organisation, but providing it could lead to resentment among non-disabled staff that "special provisions" are being made only to staff with disabilities.

The importance of a culture of confidence in disclosure

Research has found that, in many organisations, people feel intimidated about revealing their disability because of fears that they will be seen as less competent as a result. Therefore, it is essential, if targets are to be effectively monitored and reviewed, that the culture of the organisation is one which demonstrates that people with disabilities are regarded as competent and are genuinely valued in the workforce.

In order to achieve this, there needs to be disability awareness training for all staff which addresses the stereotypes that people hold of others with a disability, and which outlines why it is useful for an organisation to reflect this type of diversity. The training should be openly endorsed by the Chief Executive. It should be mandatory for staff to attend, particularly senior staff, and should become part of the induction for all new recruits in order to imbed it in the organisation's culture.

Recruiting staff with disabilities

The recruitment of people with disabilities relies on the ability of the organisation to regularly reach people with disabilities in the community. This means that a policy should be introduced and monitored which states that vacant posts are advertised widely in line with best practice in accessibility.

It is increasingly argued that the nature of job analysis has changed since jobs themselves are no longer necessarily clusters of similar tasks, but often collections of activities and that selection should focus more on what people could do rather than what they can demonstrate having done in the past. Given that people with disabilities tend to have had less opportunity than non-disabled candidates to demonstrate their capability through a clear job history, it seems that such an approach to recruitment and selection, as well as benefiting the organisation as a whole, would increase the chances of recruiting people with disabilities, and thus enabling them to harness their capabilities in a meaningful way.

Research in selection and assessment consistently shows that the interview stage of recruitment is a major source of potential bias and discrimination. Therefore, it is essential that public bodies have a culture of strict adherence to best practice in fairness at this stage. For example, competency-based interviewing is often suggested as a key way in which to minimise bias, and yet research suggests that this method alone does not differentiate between organisations that are successful in recruiting disabled staff and those which are not.

One crucial issue that needs to be addressed is the control of bias in the interviewers' expectations of the candidate. Everyone involved in the recruitment and selection process should be trained in disability awareness. An open mind is required as to the characteristics of the best person for the job, as well as an appreciation that optimal performers achieve outcomes in different ways. Additionally, the presence of a well-trained chair of any assessment panel can help ensure that best practice is exercised by assessors at all times.

The importance of effective induction, training and support

Induction programmes have a strong influence on the intentions of an employee to remain with or leave an organisation, and research suggests that people with disabilities may often leave their job at an early stage because of a poor induction. In common with all other aspects of the employment process, the culture of the organisation should be one in which careful consideration is given to the suitability of the induction process for the particular job incumbent.

Within the role itself, training and development opportunities have been found to have strong links with career satisfaction. Yet employees with disabilities often have less opportunities of this type than non-disabled employees. Key implications are that the culture of the organisation must be one in which the training and development of staff is regarded as crucially important, and should be regularly reviewed, monitored and lessons learned with respect to all staff. Additionally, it is one of the prime responsibilities of all of the leaders in the organisations to monitor whether line managers regularly assess any accommodations appropriate for their staff, as well as their individual training and development needs, providing solutions in a timely manner.

For all employees, being provided with a 'buddy' or a mentor, or being a member of a specialist network group can have very beneficial effects on their integration into the organisation, as well as provide a key social support for them to help them to adjust to their new role. What all of these social supports rely on, however, is a culture in which they are encouraged and supported, and a leadership approach which perpetuates this.

The influence of leadership style

Research finds that the single most important positive leadership factor in organisations is whether the leader shows genuine concern for their staff. This has been found to be the leadership factor most strongly associated with staff motivation, commitment, satisfaction and reduced stress. In turn, these outcomes have been demonstrated as being linked to significantly increased organisational productivity and performance.

In practice, this describes a manager displaying individual-focused behaviours and attitudes such as showing genuine interest in staff as individuals, trying to see the world through their eyes, showing that they value their contribution, developing their strengths through coaching and mentoring, and having positive expectations of what their staff can achieve.

Equally important in leadership is that a manager is able to adapt their style to what is most appropriate at the time with each individual. Focusing on the needs of an individual without sufficient focus on the basics of managing performance, such as clarifying and setting objectives, providing honest performance feedback and being directive rather than consultative when it is appropriate, can lead to poor performance and be negative for an employee and the organisation.

It is imperative that leaders accept that it is their responsibility to develop greater effectiveness beginning with increased self-awareness about their leadership style and the impact it has on others. Public bodies need to ensure that their most senior managers demonstrate their commitment to develop, and help others develop, in the same way.

Career development culture

Crucial to the retention of staff is their perceptions of whether they will be able to develop within an organisation in a way that meets their aspirations. Unfortunately, research seems to suggest that people with disabilities who would like to progress their careers are often not given the same opportunity as the non-disabled.

Performance management culture

A robust performance management culture is very important for organisations to thrive. This should include regular, formal reviews of staff performance, and informal opportunities when line managers offer staff both positive and constructive, critical feedback. However, discussions about performance are key events during which line managers need to be aware of the possibility of unconscious discrimination due to attribution theory.

A culture of ensuring accommodation for everyone

Research has found that the culture of organisations in which staff with disabilities were working in a positive environment and making a valued contribution were those where adjustments were regarded as "no big deal". These employers adopted the approach of making regular adjustments for non-disabled staff on the basis of whether they increase efficiency, make good business sense, and help to retain valued employees. Any adjustments made for staff with disabilities were no different in approach.

What all public bodies can do is to encourage, through training and leadership role-modelling, a culture in which it is usual practice to ask people if there is any way that their work routine, activities or workspace can be made more efficient for them.

A culture of inclusion

Researchers in organisations often refer to a concept known as "corridor politics", which is the tendency for staff who are in the 'in-group' to have many important meetings and discussions informally around and outside of the workplace, to which the other staff (who are thus regarded as in the "out-group") are not privy. Out-group membership in an organisation means not only that a person is less likely to hear about important activities and take part in many decisions that may affect them, but it has also been found to be linked to significantly lower career satisfaction among managers with disabilities.

There are a number of steps that organisations can take to reduce the effects of in-group/out-group status which are important for public bodies to consider if they wish to retain staff with disabilities. The starting point is to move towards creating a more inclusive culture through awareness training of staff at all levels about issues, such as personal barriers, that may be between them and staff with disabilities (or vice versa), valuing individual difference and being inclusive in their activities, language and topics of conversation.

A culture of disability prevention and return-to-work

Research has demonstrated that employee turnover due to disability is an often avoidable waste of skill and experience, and the cost of replacing an experienced employee can be many times their annual salary. A culture which emphasises the importance of rehabilitation can make a significant difference to retention rates in acquired disability. It is suggested that an organisation's policy on return-to-work should be further embedded in the culture of the organisation and expectation of the workforce through it being addressed in all employees' inductions.


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