Maximize The Potential Of Workers With Disabilities—Now And Post-Pandemic

Talent Management

Workers with disabilities often face everyday obstacles in the workplace. It’s no coincidence that in the U.S., the unemployment rate for people with disabilities (10.9%) is significantly higher than it is for people without disabilities (5.9%). The number of workers with disabilities is also higher than many people realize; 25% of American adults suffer from a cognitive or mobility disability that affects everyday life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

As offices gradually reopen and vaccination numbers rise, employers are exploring strategies to boost the productivity and well-being of their people. New research by Accenture—based on an April 2021 survey of more than 9,000 workers, including some 2,000 with a disability—suggests there are three critical priorities for employers to maximize the potential of their people with disabilities.

Priority 1: Accelerate ongoing progress

There’s already a promising foundation on which to build a more inclusive and effective workforce. In our survey, we found that workers with disabilities were less likely than workers without a disability to have strongly negative attitudes about their jobs: 31% of all workers told us they felt “disgruntled” at work, compared with only 26% of workers with disabilities.

In priority areas, such as inclusion, workload, and rewards, workers with disabilities similarly expressed more positive views about their companies’ progress than those workers without disabilities. For instance, 62% of the former said they believe their companies are becoming more inclusive, compared with only 55% of the latter. Likewise, 69% of workers with disabilities said that people at their companies are well rewarded for strong performance, compared with 66% of non-disabled workers who said the same.

These encouraging findings reflect the commitments and actions of various HR executives and other corporate leaders to do more and empower their people in recent years. However, our research also highlights there remains plenty of room for improvement. For instance, while just under half (42%) of all workers told us they were thriving at work, less than a quarter (24%) of workers with disabilities said they were thriving. In areas such as workplace acceptance and work-life balance, people with disabilities are more likely to struggle, too.

Priority 2: Expand hybrid options

For individuals with disabilities, “hybrid” working—i.e., a mix of on-site and remote work—is particularly valuable. Indeed, while 64% of the workers with disabilities we surveyed said they currently work in a hybrid model, a significantly higher percentage (79%) said they would prefer hybrid.

Hybrid working is attractive because it allows people to take advantage of the best aspects of both remote and on-site work. For the latter, access to superior technology and the ability to collaborate more easily with colleagues, including in non-traditional office spaces, were cited as key advantages for workers with disabilities.

Regarding remote work, workers with disabilities cited the freedom and flexibility to be more in control of schedules and take productive breaks when needed, the safety of home environments (particularly from the risks of Covid), and personalized tech setups in their home offices as key advantages. Because a hybrid model is widely popular among workers across industries, employers that can expand access to it can strengthen the ability to recruit and retain skilled workers from a larger, more diverse talent pool.

Priority 3: Provide “productive-anywhere” resources

To focus exclusively on work location risks neglecting the 36% of workers who currently work only on-site (18%) or only remotely (18%) and who may lack the option to switch models. Employers therefore need to prioritize supporting their people—especially those with disabilities—be healthy and productive wherever they work. We found that 63% of “high-growth” companies—organizations projected to experience at least 10% annual revenue growth over the next three years—prioritize “productive-anywhere” resources for their workers. What’s more, a plurality (44%) told us that, with the right resources, they can thrive anywhere, compared with 9% who indicated they could not.

Yet, what exactly are “productive-anywhere” resources? These expand beyond financial investments and include “personal” resources, such as autonomy, a reasonable work-life balance, strong social bonds with colleagues, and overall positive mental health at work. Additionally, these resources expand to “organizational” assets, such as employers that quickly address new challenges. Ideally, these employers are digitally savvy, invested in implementing inclusive health and wellness policies, and otherwise attentive to the needs of their people. If the benefits to workers with disabilities from access to productive-anywhere resources are vast, so too is the payoff to employers for providing them.

As working-age populations stagnate or shrink in the coming decades, today’s corporate talent competition will intensify. Organizations with strong reputations as inclusive employers will hold the upper hand—not only attracting the best workers, regardless of disability, but also bringing out the best in their people.

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