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Workplaces are still not inclusive

Business Disability Forum (BDF) has published one of the most comprehensive pieces of research ever conducted into the workplace experiences of disabled people and people with long term conditions in the UK today (20 June). The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023 looks at the experiences of nearly 1,500 disabled employees and 400 managers.

One of the most comprehensive pieces of research* ever conducted into the workplace reflects the experiences of disabled people and people with long term conditions in the UK. The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023 looks at the experiences of nearly 1,500 disabled employees and 400 managers around workplace adjustments and inclusion. It builds on an initial survey into adjustments conducted by Business Disability Forum in 2019.

The research finds that disabled people are still waiting too long for the adjustments they need to reduce or remove the barriers they experience in their jobs. Employees are also having to push for adjustments or even fund them themselves. Common adjustments include flexibility over hours and location, time off for medical appointments, as well as ergonomic equipment and assistive technology.

Disabled people are also facing a number of other disability related barriers at work, which go beyond changes to their individual roles. These include bullying and harassment, limited promotion and development opportunities, inaccessibility of programs and initiatives intended to support wellbeing, and wider inaccessibility of buildings and systems.

The 2023 survey shows that managers feel more confident talking about disability than they did previously and play a key role in the adjustments process. But multiple internal processes and limited powers to make changes in the wider organisation create additional barriers and leave managers feeling frustrated.

The research finds that for both disabled employees and managers, the COVID-19 pandemic had and continues to have a significant impact on workplace experiences.

In response to the new research, employers are being called to:

  • Simplify their workplace adjustment process.
  • Provide more support for managers and the role they play in workplace inclusion.
  • Develop a wider workplace approach to understanding the experience of having a disability and to removing disability-related barriers.

Diane Lightfoot, CEO, Business Disability Forum said: “Workplace adjustments play a vital role in enabling disabled people to thrive at work. Access to adjustments needs to be simplified and improved but adjustments only remove some of the workplace barriers that disabled people experience.

“To be fully inclusive, employers need to have a greater understanding of how disability affects a person’s life as a whole. Accessibility and inclusion need to be embedded in all aspects of the organisation and its culture, with policies and premises designed with disabled people in mind. Senior leaders should start by challenging poor workplace culture and driving organisational-wide change which better supports disabled employees and managers.”

Access to workplace adjustments – The findings

The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023 finds that disabled people are still waiting too long for adjustments and are having to drive the process themselves. Once in place, adjustments are not regularly reviewed.

  • 78 per cent of disabled employees told us they, rather than their employer, had to initiate the process of getting adjustments.
  • 58 per cent said getting the adjustments they needed was due to how assertive and confident they are to ask for that support.
  • Just 10 per cent of disabled employees said it was easy to get the adjustments they needed.
  • The speed of getting adjustments has improved by 4 per cent since 2019. But 1 in 8 disabled employees are waiting over a year to get the adjustments they need.
  • 22 per cent of employees have never had their adjustments reviewed.

“I did all the organisation myself as I waited 2 years for my manager to do something. In the end, I paid for it myself.” An employee on organising workplace adjustments

Barriers remain after adjustments have been made

The survey shows that adjustments can have a positive impact on a person’s specific job but do not address the barriers elsewhere in the organisation that disabled employees continue to experience.

  • Only 18 per cent of disabled employees said their adjustments have removed all barriers in the workplace.
  • 40 per cent have felt patronised or ‘put down’ by other people at work because of their disability or condition. 38 per cent said they had been bullied or harassed.
  • Just 44 per cent of disabled employees felt their employee assistance programme was accessible and inclusive.
  • 62 per cent of disabled people would like to be promoted to a more senior role with higher pay in their current organisation within the next two years. 45 per cent would like the same elsewhere.

Some people try to bubble wrap me, giving me less responsibility even though I am able, when in fact they unconsciously disable me”. An employee on wider barriers at work

The role of managers in workplace inclusion

The research shows that managers feel more confident talking about disability and making adjustments to an individual’s role than in 2019.  Managers feel that they are held back by internal processes, however, and lack the authority to make adjustments to the wider organisation. In general, managers want more help to support disabled employees.

  • 64 per cent of managers are very confident to have a conversation with an employee who tells them they have a disability or a condition.
  • 81 per cent said it is a lot easier to make adjustments when an employee tells them they have a disability or condition.
  • Only 25 per cent of managers agreed a lot that occupational health helped them understand how to manage and support their employees.

“There are many factors which dictate how easy it is to make adjustments. Often organisational pressure, finance and efficiency seem to be prioritised over good support mechanisms.” A manager on the workplace adjustments process

Workplace experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic

Disabled employees’ experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic were both positive and negative. Many found it easier to work from home but found it difficult to get the adjustments they needed. Others asked to return to the workplace as an adjustment. For managers, it was often a stressful experience and many felt unsupported and ill equipped by their employer.

  • 72 per cent of disabled employees said it was easier to manage their disability or condition when working at home.
  • 49 per cent needed additional or different adjustments during the pandemic but only 18 per cent said their employer provided everything they needed.
  • 14 per cent of disabled employees are still shielding, isolating or restricting contact with others.

“Working from home became much easier once I had adjustments implemented – I was off for 8 months waiting for them to be sorted out”. An employee on working during the pandemic

“Pandemic working put a lot on managers…I did well at supporting others, but that came at a cost to me.” A manager on pandemic working

*Business Disability Forum (BDF)

*Business Disability Forum’s Great Big Workplace Adjustments Hub

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