People with disability fear asking for workplace adjustments

Australian Disability Network research, based on 600 survey responses from people with disability and Australian employers, found 56 per cent of employees with disability fear being treated differently by their managers or colleagues if they request a workplace adjustment.

The Workplace Adjustments Report, entitled Getting Workplace Adjustments out of the “too-hard basket” was released at the IMPACT 2024 conference at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on Thursday May 9.

The research, comprising surveys, in-depth interviews, and focus groups, revealed the most common workplace adjustments that employees with disability requested or would like to request are inexpensive and benefit both employees and employers. They include;

  • Being able to work from home (87 per cent)
  • Flexible work hours, for example starting or finishing at different times, or working longer days to enable time off on other days (83 per cent)
  • Taking time off for appointments or taking breaks to help manage a condition (78 per cent)
  • Having a permanent workspace instead of having to share a desk or ‘hot desk.’ (62 per cent)

93 per cent of organisations surveyed said equitable participation in the recruitment process was one of the great benefits of offering workplace adjustments and 84 per cent said offering adjustments gave them increased access to a broader talent pool.

“Workplace Adjustments are essential to increase the workforce participation rate of people with disability,” said Corene Strauss, CEO of Australian Disability Network, the peak body for disability inclusion in the workplace.

“Unfortunately, workplace adjustments are not well understood, or they’re regarded as too difficult to implement. According to our research 32 per cent of organisations said their managers had not received any training about workplace adjustments.

“And 31 per cent of employers said they declined requests for workplace adjustments due to the costs of implementing. However, the research findings show that many of the workplace adjustments required by people with disability are inexpensive or have no cost at all to implement.”

The research breaks down the findings into three overarching themes – process, proactivity, and attitudes, and outlines seven critical factors for success of workplace adjustments.

These recommendations provide valuable insights from the research findings into how organisations can develop, improve, and sustain workplace adjustments policies, offer adjustments proactively to all employees, and as an interviewee from an organisation said: “shift the mindset” about disability and employment.”

“One of the most compelling comments was from a survey responder with a disability who said they worry about being put in the ‘too-hard basket’, being seen as a problem if they ask for adjustments. So they said they just try to get through without asking for workplace adjustments,” said Australian Disability Network’s Research Lead Dr Catherine Maitland.

Employees with disability requested that managers “humanise the process” of talking about workplace adjustments by:

  • Not treating the process as ‘ticking the box’
  • Asking their team members what supports they need to do their job
  • Being informed about a range of available adjustments
  • Listening respectfully to lived experience

Catherine added: “people with disability said many employers are not aware of the multiple issues that influence their workplace adjustment requests, so it is important, as a survey respondent recommended, to ‘please just listen.’ “

Read the full Workplace Adjustments Report

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