This is the first of two articles which will be supported by a webinar prior to the second posting, that considers the current factors effecting the retention of disabled people within the workplace.
Recent global statistics indicate that one in six people who become disabled whilst in work will lose their job. That is a staggering statistic - so what is actually happening here and how can we reverse this trend?
As well as CEO of Universal Inclusion, I chair a UK Forum for Hidden and Fluctuating Conditions, and it's no surprise that people with chronic and fluctuating conditions are more likely to lose their job than others.
I also speak from personal experience. When as a Senior Manager in local govt I developed a health condition which impacted on my ability to do my job, I suddenly went from being a high functioning individual who reported to my Director - who was seen as an expert in my field (Inclusive Play and Childcare ) and who was advising other councils, organisations and Ministers on how to develop and implement strategic action plans in this area - to someone who effectively just crumbled under the onset of Chronic pain, Chronic fatigue, mobility difficulties, temperature sensitivity, cognitive dysfunction, low moods and other issues that are too personal to put in a public posting. The result was an 18 month battle, an Employment Tribunal and my eventually resigning when the toll on my health because of my battle to stay in work became untenable.
So let us look at the factors that influence this global statistic from my research to date, and then finish on a more positive aspect of how we can minimise this trend and increase workforce retention.
The presence of a medical condition within an employee can manifest itself within the workplace in a number of ways, with varying timescales.
For our members, it often happens with little or no prior warning, placing the employee in an incredibly vulnerable position where they know something is wrong, however they don't understand what is happening to them or what is causing it. They are really struggling to get help or a diagnosis - which can often go on for months at a time as various tests are conducted prior to diagnosis and a treatment plan is put into place.
As you can imagine, this puts the employee under massive stress and anxiety. Indeed, our members report feeling isolated and vulnerable during this process. If you then factor in how this might present itself in the workplace alongside other areas of the employee's life, it comes as no surprise that our members report being very anxious about disclosure.
The reasons for this fear vary significantly from person to person, depending on how they feel their disclosure will be responded to.
Typically, an employer will not want to pick up on anything until there are extended periods of sickness, absence or a change in performance for the individual. And it is at this point where one of two things will happen which will change the path for all parties.
The employee will be treated with dignity and respect by a manager who understands their duties in this regard,who displays compassion, identifies the support requirements that need to be put into place and ensures a swift implementation so that the employee is supported to be the best that they can be whilst in work. They often allow innovative and flexible ways of working to achieve this.
The reverse happens often because the person dealing with the employee does not have the knowledge, confidence, experience or their own support that is required to achieve a positive outcome for the employee. There is talk of capability procedures, health and safety issues, various offensive comments which could be discriminatory, refusal of pre-agreed promotions and so on.
Unfortunately for our members, they report scenario Two as happening much more frequently than scenario One. It's no surprise then that the result is conflict, which leads to disciplinary and grievance procedures. There are typically prolonged periods of sickness absence - often at the request of the employer as the employee is perceived as " the problem" that the manager does not know how to deal with, and finds it easier to have them off sick than in work; employment tribunals and ultimately the loss of a once-valued employee, with the added cost of replacing them. If the conflict has led to an employment tribunal, this could easily cost the company on average £48,000.
Equally it's no surprise that employees who experience Scenario Two enter a downward spiral in terms of their health and wellbeing. This often occurs when they are at their most vulnerable and not really in a position to be exposed to such a traumatic experience . The knock-on effects may mean that they never work again.
In the main it has occurred due to lack of inclusive working practice, knowledge and experience.
There has been anecdotal talk of employers wilfully acting to dismiss an employee who becomes disabled whilst in work. The Workforce Retention Programme which I developed in 2009 would point to the contrary as we have worked with employers at point-of-conflict and the employee has been retained.
I often look back at my own circumstances and think how different things could have been.
So let's look at the solutions clearly. We want to encourage Scenario One as the default solution for every employee. The following webinair and posting will outline the programs that I have developed, the positive impact they have had and what I now know to be the key to the reversal of the shocking statistic I outlined at the start of this posting.