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Employees avoid telling employers about less visible disabilities

Nearly a quarter of those with invisible or less visible disabilities haven’t told their employer about their condition due to worries that they wouldn’t be believed, while one in five expressed concerns that their disability might impact their career opportunities.

Two in five (43%) employees with a less visible disability haven’t disclosed it to their employer. The research* showed that not wanting to ‘cause a fuss’ (30%) or be treated differently (25%) were the key reasons for keeping their condition to themselves.

Nearly a quarter of those affected (23%) haven’t told their employer about their condition due to worries that they wouldn’t be believed, while one in five (20%) expressed concerns that their disability might impact their career opportunities.

This in turn is fuelling presenteeism and could be damaging people’s health in the long term. To avoid telling bosses about a condition, people with less visible disabilities report working even when not feeling well enough (55%) or taking holiday to attend medical appointments (26%). 23% give a cover reason for not being able to work, when really they are unwell.

There are an estimated 10.2m people in the UK who have a less visible or invisible disability but despite this, many still experience serious issues in the workplace.

Worryingly, negative experiences in the workplace can impact mental health, including increased anxiety (34%), feeling down (29%) or depression (24%). Meanwhile, a quarter (25%) said they were less likely to ask for help when they needed it and many (21%) reported feeling less motivated.

These findings come as Bupa announces it has become the Official Healthcare Partner of ParalympicsGB in a three-year agreement. Through the partnership, both organisations will collaborate to challenge perceptions around disability in society, celebrating difference and diversity in order to help everyone achieve their goals, while promoting inclusivity in business, healthcare and all areas of life.

Carlos Jaureguizar, CEO for Bupa Global & UK says:”It’s worrying that people with less visible impairments feel they must hide their health conditions from their employers. Employers have a responsibility to create an inclusive and supportive environment that allows their people to be open and agree ways of working that meets the requirements of their role, whilst also providing support to manage their health needs.. A happy, productive workforce is good for people and helps to shore up businesses against short and long-term challenges, which is crucial in today’s climate.

“A key part of Bupa’s partnership with ParalympicsGB is to encourage a tangible shift in perceptions of disability in our society. That includes encouraging greater understanding around disabilities, and that people with less visible disabilities may have different needs and experiences. Together, we want to inspire the next generation to believe that anything is possible, and that starts by making everyone feel confident, safe and supported – both in and out of the workplace.”

 How to make a more inclusive workplace

Here, Rachel Murray, Head of Employee Health and Wellbeing at Bupa Global & UK gives her advice on how to make sure your workplace is inclusive for everyone – including those with less visible disabilities.

1. Start with hiring
Consider your recruitment practices and whether they are inclusive. This goes beyond just interviews – think about where you advertise a job vacancy, and who will find it.

It could be a good idea to review the language and imagery used in job adverts, on your company website and in other assets to ensure that they are inclusive, it’s worth ensuring that hiring managers are briefed on best practice when it comes to shortlisting and interviewing.

Your business may be able to consult with specialists if you are concerned that you might be struggling to reach a diverse enough pool of candidates, including disabled people.

2. Be flexible
Flexible working has been implemented more widely since the pandemic, but it is still worth considering your policy and how working patterns might need to be reasonably adapted for everyone’s needs. The more your business is able to be flexible when it comes to working patterns and practices, the easier it is to be inclusive.

At Bupa, colleagues can use a ‘This Is Me’ document that prompts an honest conversation between a colleague and line manager to help someone work at their best. It helps to have a very broad conversation about working styles, communication, hours, flexibility, health and wellbeing, as well as physical adjustments.

3. Consider how accessible your workplace really is
A truly accessible workplace means going further than then physical environment.

The important thing about making your workplace inclusive is not to assume that people with the same disability will need similar solutions. You should tailor adjustments to the needs of the individual, after careful consideration and the advice of experts.

Thinking about how your workplace accessibility policies are communicated and discussed is key to improving inclusion. By telling all employees what you’re doing to create a more accessible workplace, you give your people a chance to take you up on that provision.

4. Create an inclusivity network
Dedicated networks and groups aimed at advancing diversity and inclusion at your workplace can help keep the issue on the agenda, through various mediums such as listening sessions, peer-to-peer support and welcoming external speakers to share their lived experiences. Senior leaders should ensure good links with these networks to ensure that the needs of their employees are being met.

At Bupa, our ‘Be You at Bupa’ network helps to promote visibility and a sense of belonging for our people. Our aim is to educate and build awareness of diversity and inclusion in a safe, open space.

5. Mind your language
Try to be sensitive about the language you use when referring to disability and disabled people. Don’t use ableist terms or use language that suggests disabled people are less capable or need pity. You can also help by calling out this language when you hear others use it.

And remember, creating an inclusive workplace goes beyond looking out for your own behaviours or use of language. Don’t be afraid to confront ableism – leading by example is key and that means challenging prejudice and misconceptions as soon as you encounter them.

It’s important that we have open and honest conversations, even if we feel awkward or are worried about saying the wrong thing, as this helps promote inclusion in our society. Listen to disabled people. And if you’re not sure, ask!

*Research from BUPA

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