We can only truly understand the combined experience of being disabled or having a long-term condition and getting adjustments in place at work by listening.
We repeatedly hear that the experiences of employees getting disability-related support and adjustments remains, at best, mixed. Therefore, in 2019, and with support from Microlink, we launched The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey.
We sought views from managers and senior leaders as well as employees with disabilities and long-term conditions.
Over 1,200 people took part making it one of the most extensive pieces of research on workplace adjustments ever conducted.
There was good news and bad news in the findings. The good news was that 80% of disabled employees felt their adjustments helped them stay in their job and be more productive, and 60% said they enjoyed their job more with adjustments in place.
The data told us that when adjustments are in place, staff are happier, think more highly of their employer, and can do the best work they can. What powerful evidence for implementing a practice, regardless of the fact that it is a legal requirement.
The bad news was that employers too often assumed adjustments removed all barriers in the workplace.
Only 19% of disabled staff said adjustments made their wider working environment inclusive to them; that makes sense, because adjustments are specific to removing barriers in an individual’s job and working environment.
Reasonable adjustments were never designed to replace unsuitable training or change workplace cultures or colleagues’ attitude.
We also found that only 44% of disabled staff had all the adjustments they need. That’s a lot of employers who are potentially at risk of failing in their legal duty to make reasonable adjustments.
Part of this was about how unclear the process was and some of it was about employees not feeling sure whether the employer had a genuine commitment to the inclusion agenda. But we also saw that employees refrained from requesting adjustments, not just because they feared their employer would treat them differently, but that their colleagues would too.
“It was ‘a fight’ to get what I needed” is a phrase we heard repeatedly.
Only 42% of respondents said they did not experience problems with the workplace adjustment process.
We have now opened The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey 2023.
This time we are focusing on three themes that have come up during conversations with our members and sector network sessions since the last survey: working life post-pandemic; how disabled employees feel about their wellbeing at work; and the experience of disabled graduates moving into their first job.
If you are an employee or recent graduate with disabilities and long-term conditions or a line manager – or maybe all three – then we would like to hear your experiences. The survey is open until 9 January.
We often see that making workplace adjustments for disabled staff is regarded as exemplary or leading practice. It’s not. It is a fundamental baseline right of disabled employees to have adjustments put in place.
Yet the impact of an easy-to-use adjustments process which removes barriers for disabled staff cannot be underestimated. In the last survey, some respondents told us adjustments to their job had “changed their life”, and even “saved their life”.
It is so important that leaders responsible for affecting change and improving adjustments hear people’s experiences. We look forward to hearing yours.
Angela Matthews is head of policy and research at Business Disability Forum