· News

Hybrid work could mean employers are overlooking disabled staff

Disabled employees are concerned they will lose out on opportunities at work due to working remotely.

New research from The Work Foundation found 70% of disabled workers said it would negatively impact their physical or mental health if their employer did not allow them to work remotely.

However, a majority (70%) of those with multiple impairments or conditions in the research said they felt opportunities to stretch and grow at work would go to those in the office instead.

Around half (53%) of those with a single impairment felt the same.

Disability inclusion in the workplace:

Million more disabled people in work than five years ago

Public sector is UK's most disability confident employer

Long covid recognised as disability in landmark tribunal

Diane Lightfoot, CEO of Business Disability Forum (BDF), said the findings were concerning as perceptions influence employees’ actions and workplace cultures.

Speaking to HR magazine, Lightfoot said: “If people don’t think they have a chance of progressing, they may not apply for a role.

“This can be confounded by fears that any workplace adjustments they have in place will not be transferrable if moving jobs, or simply reluctance to go through the process of asking a new manager for support all over again.”

Despite a legal duty on employers to provide reasonable adjustments for disabled employees, more than half (53%) of respondents said they had not been given any to support them to work from home.

Just 5% reported receiving support from the government’s Access to Work scheme which was set up to fund adjustments and support for disabled workers.

Lightfoot added that BDF research from 2019 showed many disabled people do not ask for adjustments at work as they are concerned they will be treated differently by managers or colleagues.

She said: “The result is that too many disabled workers are working without the support they need, masking, coping and working around a condition rather than being able to focus their whole energy on their job.

“That impacts both productivity and confidence.”

A further 63% of respondents with multiple impairments, and nearly half (47%) of those with a single impairment said that their pay and career progression may be negatively affected due to perceived proximity bias.

Lightfoot added that disabled people have been experiencing limited career progression in comparison to non-disabled peers since before the pandemic.

She suggested employers reflect on the opportunities they offer.

“Employers need to make sure that the learning and development opportunities they offer are accessible and inclusive to all. Some of our members are going beyond this and offering dedicated career development courses for their disabled employees to help address the gap.” 

AXA UK is a government accredited Disability Confident Employer and member of the BDF.

Speaking to HR magazine Zoe Ashdown, head of people engagement, culture and strategy UK&I at the firm, said: “AXA UK has an ambition to be amongst the most inspiring companies to work for, and creating an environment where people feel they belong and are able to thrive is therefore important to us.”

For employers considering how to be improve their work environments, Ashdown recommended introducing roles like AXA UK’s accessibility concierge, which works within the talent acquisition team to help applicants with any needs in the recruitment process.

The company also has an accessibility officer responsible for driving disability inclusive improvements to the workplace.

“We empower our people and trust them to shape the way they work best. We know one size doesn't fit all so depending on our customers’ needs, people’s unique circumstances and how individual teams operate, we offer a blend of remote and office-based working.

“A large proportion of employees now have regular movement between working locations and we have found that working in this way has no negative impact on opportunity or development.

The changing workplace: Enabling disability-inclusive hybrid working report is based on a survey of 406 disabled people, interviews with 20 disabled workers, and two roundtables with employers and other stakeholders.