Hidden Disabilities in the Workplace
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), around one in five people in the UK have disability (1), and a study by Leeds University estimates that around 70% of disabilities are “hidden”(2). A hidden disability is one that it may not be possible to physically observe. Invisible disabilities can include mental health conditions, or they can be the cause of mental health issues.
There are a range of impacts of hidden disabilities.
Many people will suffer with chronic pain, which may make it difficult for staff to contribute at work, and they might experience low self-worth or even shame.
Employees may feel misunderstood, rejected, or left out of activities. Due to the pain, individuals might also have a hard time sleeping at night due to physical discomfort. All of this creates psychological distressing.
So, what can employers do to support employees with disabilities (hidden or otherwise)?
1. Make Reasonable Adjustments
According to the CIPD: ‘Employers are required to understand the barriers a disabled employee is experiencing and must put adjustments in place to accommodate them and resolve difficulties’. This is true of individuals experiencing invisible disabilities, including mental health challenges.
Employers should aim to work with staff to determine the best adjustments for them and then keep communicating with staff. What may have worked a year ago may not be suitable for the individual now. Reasonable adjustments can include:
- Altering premises – such as quiet spaces;
- Training, mentoring or support;
- Modified or specialist equipment – such as supportive chairs, height-adjustable or standing desks;
- Time off during working hours – for example, for hospital appointments, physiotherapy, counselling, or treatment;
- Flexible working or adjusted hours.
It is good to remember that reasonable adjustments are in their very nature – reasonable. The organisation will need to consider the employee and the business’s ability to provide these in accordance with their obligations under the Equality Act 2010.
2. Be flexible but Fair
Managers should be aware that sometimes individuals will have good days and bad. On those bad days, aim to be flexible; does the employee really need to attend that meeting? Can the employee temporarily do alternative work? Would working from home that day be of benefit? By being flexible, you can retain excellent team members while still ensuring business aims are met.
It is worth mentioning that it will often be unsuitable to compare an employee with a disability to another employee regarding productivity outputs; this will generate bad feeling amongst the team and potentially worsen their mental health. Keep in mind, however, that managers should show fairness to all staff members.
3. Internal Processes and Raising Awareness
Organisations and particularly employers, can do much to create awareness around hidden disabilities. The CIPD make several recommendations on how to do this, including:
- Implementing an inclusion policy, setting out how you will fulfil your legal and moral obligations;
- Awareness raising activities such as training, to challenge stereotypes (e.g., assumptions that all disabilities are visible due to the person being a wheelchair or Braille user);
- Giving proper consideration to and making reasonable adjustments;
- Using pre-employment medical questionnaires (please see our recent blog on this topic here: https://viewhr.co.uk/5-top-tips-for-pre-employment-medical-screening/);
- Implementing training specifically for line managers: “Disability ‘awareness’ training on its own is not enough: line managers need to know how to navigate conversations about disability and conditions with employees and understand how to arrange and implement reasonable adjustments.”3
If you are an employer and have questions about how you can implement good practice for the wider workforce, or support for a specific employee, ViewHR can help – please contact us today for an initial discussion.
Today’s Guest Blogger
Thank you to View HR’s Managing Director, Gemma Murphy, for sharing her insight into hidden disabilities in the workplace and tips on how to manage these situations.
Help and Support
Dorset Mind offers group support that can also help with your well-being. The group offers peer support. They help to reduce stigma by normalising conversations about mental health. You can also check out further support for stress and mental health here. You’ll find links for 1-2-1 and groups of mental health support we offer here.