Are invisible disabilities hampering your workforce?

Many employees concerned about impact on their careers: survey

Are invisible disabilities hampering your workforce?

Almost half (43 per cent) of employees with a less visible disability haven’t disclosed it to their employer.

And this is leading to ‘presenteeism’, according to a recent survey by international healthcare provider Bupa. (Presenteesism is a term for the phenomenon of employees being on the job, yet not getting the job done properly because of an illness or ongoing medical condition.)

Bupa’s survey reported that 43% of employees have failed to disclose a serious illness or long-term condition to their employer. They work even when they’re not feeling well enough (55%) or use holiday time for medical appointments (26%).

Nearly a quarter give a cover reason for not being able to work, when really they are unwell, the U.K. survey reported.

“It’s worrying that people with less visible impairments feel they must hide their health conditions from their employers,” said Carlos Jaureguizar, CEO for Bupa Global & UK.

“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.”

Invisible disabilities can include visual or audio impairments, chronic pain, chronic fatigue, chronic illness and mental illness, according to Disabled World.

How to promote people with disabilities into leadership roles.

Why the deception?

Why are people with less visible disabilities reluctant to reveal their struggles? Because they:

  • don’t want to “cause a fuss” (30%)
  • don’t want to be treated differently (25%)
  • are worried they won’t be believed (23%)
  • are concerned it will impact their career opportunities (20%)

Worryingly, negative experiences in the workplace can impact mental health, according to the Bupa survey, including increased anxiety (34%), feeling down (29%) or depression (24%).

Meanwhile, 25% said they were less likely to ask for help when they needed it and 21% reported feeling less motivated, according to the survey of 626 people with disabilities, of which 323 had a disability that they self-defined as ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ visible.

Hiring people with disabilities: Why HR needs to go further

How to be more inclusive

There are several ways employers can make their workplace more inclusive, according to Rachel Murray, head of employee health and wellbeing at Bupa Global & UK: 

Start with hiring: Consider your recruitment practices and whether they are inclusive. 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, and that hiring managers are briefed on best practice when it comes to shortlisting and interviewing.

Be flexible: Consider your policy and how working patterns might need to be reasonably adapted for everyone’s needs. The more flexible your business is when it comes to working patterns and practices, the easier it is to be inclusive.

Consider how accessible your workplace really is: Don’t 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.

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.

Mind your language: Don’t use ableist terms or 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.

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