bee honeycomb symbolising democratic approach to workplace adjustments
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Workplace adjustments have proven benefits for disabled employees – so why don’t we include everyone else?

When your organisation makes workplace adjustments for disabled employees, have you ever considered why? If your answer even comes close to being something about a legal duty, you’re missing a trick.

There are three much better reasons for making adjustments – and reaping the benefits for your organisation:

  • improving wellbeing
  • boosting productivity
  • changing cultures of negativity towards disability

Adjustments improve wellbeing

Lloyds Banking Group found that sickness absence was reduced by 89% for employees that received workplace adjustments. It’s not hard to see why.

Take someone with dyslexia. They’re not ill, but the stress of trying to do their job without adjustments that would help means they can get stressed and take time off sick.

Take someone with a ‘bad back’. They can work, but can’t get comfortable at their desks, which makes their back condition worse, so they take time off sick.

For the want of a few simple, low-cost workplace adjustments, your organisation’s sickness absence costs go up.

From 2015 to 2016, there were 25.9 million working days lost in the UK due to workplace-related illness. Stress, depression or anxiety and musculoskeletal disorders accounted for most lost time, with 11.7 million and 8.8 million working days respectively. Many of those days could have been avoided through simple workplace adjustments.

Adjustments raise productivity

Take the above two examples: the employee with dyslexia is stressed out, while the person with a back condition is in pain.

Both face a potential situation where their health conditions worsen, affecting their productivity. Effective workplace adjustments will break that cycle; enabling them to work to the best of their ability.

Again, Lloyds Banking Group’s experience illustrates the point: 85% of line managers using its workplace adjustment service reported ‘significant’ improvements in staff performance, with 77% finding a ‘dramatic’ improvement.

At Channel 4 Television, a member of staff with a significant visual impairment was ‘getting by’ using the Windows built-in magnifier, which made things bigger on screen, but also fuzzier.

But getting by isn’t good enough and, following an assessment, she was given a third-party screen magnifier programme and hand-held video magnifier for documents. She described the adjustments as a “game changer”, was able to work faster, experienced less visual strain, and became less reliant on her colleagues for help.

Give people the tools they need to do their job – whoever they are and wherever they work in your organisation.

Adjustments improve workplace cultures

So what happens when people find their employer is willing to invest in helping staff feel more comfortable and hence productive? They feel valued, they become more engaged in their work and feel more loyal towards their employer.

It’s no coincidence that providing workplace adjustments are one of the most important factors in retaining disabled staff.

Let’s take things one step further. What if employers didn’t use the language of ‘reasonable’ adjustments for disabled employees’ requests, with the implication that many such requests were likely to be ‘unreasonable’?

What if we assumed that all staff could benefit from adjustments, so that proof of disability was not a prerequisite for getting them?

Imagine an organisation where getting adjustments was democratised to the extent that anyone with a genuine need was able to get them. One where this was seen as no big deal – just a way of helping employees in general be great at what they do.

In that world, employees would no longer fear asking for adjustments, and there would be no stigma associated with getting them.

In that world, there would be no fear for employees asking for adjustments, and no stigma associated with getting them.

And finally… ‘chair envy’

A common fear employers have about democratising adjustments is that it creates a gateway for non-disabled people to get stuff they wouldn’t otherwise be able to get.

Human nature being what it is, you will encounter ‘chair envy’ in various forms. However, employers needn’t sacrifice all the good they get from an open, efficient, democratised adjustments process, simply to prevent a few bad eggs abusing the system.

Disability consultant Phil Friend puts it well:

“If your process for assessing need is robust, people shouldn’t be able to ‘swing the lead’. If they can, it’s the process that’s flawed.”

So the solution is to ensure your adjustments process has a way of identifying and weeding out non-genuine demand, and that you apply this consistently. Then everyone’s happy.