In July last year I was asked by Marianne Eloise from Raconteur Magazine to answer some questions relating to diversity and inclusion within the workplace. Specifically, she was asking how important it is to offer flexible working to disabled employees. But given the shift that is occurring within the workplace, it is an interesting by-product of our current climate, that a move towards flexible working has now in fact provided more opportunities for disabled workers.
Here are the questions she asked, along with my answers. I think there are some relevant points regarding all employees:
What are the proven benefits of allowing flexible working?
There is a known link between employee wellbeing, happiness at work and output. The Asset model (C.L.Cooper, I. Robertson ) for example shows the link between how the workplace plays a key role in affecting employee wellbeing, and how this in turn impacts work outcomes. One of the key elements of this model is promoting employee control over their work, and one of the ways to do this is through flexible working. There was a study done in January (2020) this year which showed that teachers felt they had the second lowest autonomy of 11 professions. The lowest was healthcare professionals. These are both professions which experience high levels of sick-leave, burnout and stress. They are also professions where their contact and impact on other people is huge ie patients and children.
How can employees better accommodate disabled workers?
Employees or employers? Both of these are important here and the two are linked. I’ve come across problems within a workforce for a number of reasons. But generally, if you have a workplace culture which is toxic and unsupported by the employer, then this impacts on everyone. How an employer treats its whole workforce is key. Any employees who are not supported with their own wellbeing are often unsupportive of individuals with distinct needs. Understanding, training and positive workplace culture are vital. Acknowledging the varied face of disability is also important. It’s just as important for example to make accommodation for seen and unseen disability. Problems can occur if managers don’t actively communicate with people experiencing disability. I say actively, because I have come across cases where people don’t actually ask what the individual needs and make massive assumptions instead. This goes for employees and employers. Often, it’s just a case of having a conversation.
Does flexible working benefit the economy and productivity?
Flexible working helps create positive wellbeing. Positive wellbeing reduces absence, presenteeism, stress and improves outcomes such as focus, creativity and productivity. The often-quoted number is that in 2017 Anglian Water says that for every £1 invested in employee wellbeing, it got £8 back. So, it’s good for profit and the economy.
How does employee happiness improve productivity and retention?
Ignoring all the statistics that I could quote at this point; it just makes sense to look after employees. It’s like any two-way relationship. If an employee is looked after and likes where they are working, they’re going to stay, and work in a productive way for that employer. I admire the way Timpson run their business. Upside Down Management might not suit every employer, and it does have some flaws, but Timpson is definitely a good example of a business that looks after their employees.