By Volker “VW” Wellmann
The economic outlook may feel uncertain, but the job market is still booming. The unemployment rate stands at a 50-year low, making recruitment and retention challenging. But this climate also offers an opportunity to build truly inclusive workforces that are good for your business and your customers.
In the economy, people with disabilities represent a vast and largely untapped resource. If companies embrace inclusion of people with disabilities, research from Accenture shows they would gain access to a pool of 10.7 million workers. An inclusive workforce is simply good business. Accenture’s report shows businesses leading in disability employment and inclusion report improved product quality, higher customer satisfaction, greater employee retention, and higher profits.
Walgreens, for example, reported 20 percent higher productivity in spaces where 50 percent of employees have disabilities. Employees with disabilities at Amazon sites achieved 37 percent higher work quality than their non-disabled colleagues, along with a perfect safety record and better attendance.
An inclusive workforce, one that includes workers with disabilities, can be a key part of a facilities team because it provides high-quality and stable teams, with strong attendance and performance records.
Investments that guarantee all employees, including those with disabilities, can do their best work can lead your organization to similar success and make it more competitive ahead of the major growth expected in the facilities industry over the next decade.
Here’s how to open the door to a pool of qualified candidates.
Make Accommodations The Norm
Including people with disabilities is about creating environments that enable them. For many disabled people, inaccessible environments and workplace cultures are the greatest barriers to success, not their disability.
To create an enabling environment, make accommodations for every employee a priority.
An accommodation is tweaking the work environment or job responsibilities to allow a qualified employee to perform a job effectively. While understanding and adhering to the legal requirements of accommodation are important, the benefits go way beyond ticking a box.
A 2019 study found that nearly a quarter of the workforce could use some sort of accommodation—more than half would cost nothing—but only 40 percent of those eligible were actually receiving the support they needed. That means millions of lost work hours and productivity.
When accommodations are prioritized, both positive culture and output grows. Examples of accommodations include:
- Providing adjustable height cleaning equipment for individuals with mobility impairments
- Providing ergonomic tools, such as kneepads or wrist supports, for employees with musculoskeletal disabilities
- Offering flexible scheduling and break times
- Flexibility on standing and lifting requirements
- Using non-toxic and fragrance-free cleaning products for employees with respiratory sensitivities and allergies
How to Unlock These Benefits: Review Job Descriptions And Performance Measurement
Changes to language commonly used in job descriptions could help attract more talent. Consider skipping buzzwords and phrases like “fast-paced” and “high-energy,” which could deter potential employees from applying for open positions.
In job descriptions, interviews, and trainings, explain what success looks like rather than how a job should be done. Break down job descriptions into quantifiable tasks with measurable outcomes. Perhaps quality candidates are suited for part of the job, which could free up other staff to do more of what they are skilled at doing.
Consider a hands-on interview where possible. Let a candidate show you they can perform the work, rather than assuming they cannot based on a verbal response. An individual with autism, for example, may not excel in an expressive interaction, such as a job interview. That, however, is not an accurate predictor of their ability to do the job well.
Many employers limit their searches to what they perceive would be the perfect candidate: young, neurotypical, and able-bodied. The reality is as many as 1 in 4 job seekers and employees already working in your organization are people with disabilities. People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the U.S. but are often overlooked in the workforce.
Lean Into Lessons From The Pandemic
The pandemic may have already prompted you to start making some of these changes, helping shift the mindset of supervisors from perceived productivity to measured productivity focused on actual results.
Expanding thinking toward custom processes, jobs, and duties for individual employees will allow you to build a more inclusive, successful team, and support the business and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion goals of your organization and customers.
Wellmann is a Senior Vice President at Northwest Center, a national leader in advancing equal opportunities for people with disabilities. Northwest Center operates five social enterprise businesses that support the nonprofit’s mission of promoting the growth, development, and independence of people with disabilities: OneNorth IFS, Lithtex NW commercial printing, The Big Blue Truck, NWC Staffing solutions, and NWC Laundry.