Being Human: How to be Accommodating in the Workplace
A record four million people left their jobs earlier this year in search of more money, more flexibility, and most importantly, in search of happiness. Now, many employers—from banks to cafés—are offering financial appeals in an attempt to lure people back to work. But increased wages and bonuses aren’t working on their own.
Research from Gallup tells us how employers treat their workers makes a big difference. Currently, less than one-third of Americans are engaged in their jobs. Many of these employees are working parents, employees with disabilities, grieving employees, or workers with ongoing mental and physical health struggles who feel like they’re not being heard.
Learning how to accommodate workers, and making sure that all employees feel actively listened to as human beings is vital. Effective communication can help managers serve their teams better, and values-driven leadership can empower employees to perform 4.6 times better.
Recognizing Employees as Humans First
Many employees find it hard to be vulnerable about their anxieties and concerns with their managers. They fear that discussing their problems will make them come across as unstable, emotional, flawed, and might even put their jobs in jeopardy.
Studies show that women frequently overextend themselves at work to fight the stereotype threat “that women perform poorly compared to men at a given task—test, negotiation, presentation, competition—as a result of which she fails to perform up to her ability.”
According to the CDC, one in four adults in the United States lives with a physical or neurological disability. A 2017 study from the Center of Talent Innovation shows that thirty percent of college educated employees have a disability. Of this thirty percent, only 3.2% feel comfortable identifying their disabilities to their employers.
This is largely due to stereotype threats, stigma attached to disability and invisible health problems, and prejudiced treatment toward disabled people in the workplace. So how can we create a workplace where people feel comfortable discussing their challenges? Here are five ways to start.
Inclusivity Starts with Acknowledgment and Awareness
Disability inclusion goes further than hiring with diversity initiatives in mind. It is about recognizing these differences, supporting them, and fostering an equal opportunity environment where every worker is treated and compensated fairly for their work. This is why emphasizing disability awareness for employers is key.
Results from the Fair Treatment at Work Survey show that employees with disabilities frequently fall victim to unfair treatment like bullying, harassment, being ignored, and assigned fewer responsibilities than desired. In most cases, said employees point to employers and managers as culprits.
To create a truly inclusive workplace, it’s important to educate all the people that inhabit it, starting from the very top. Consult with your office’s human resource management team to host mandatory workshops and training on physical and mental health awareness. This way, all employees can get acclimated to mental health facts, mental health statistics, as well as company policies regarding harassment and bullying.
Bringing consistent attention to these matters helps destigmatize health conditions and recognize employees with disabilities as people. This leads to better team morale, and a more engaged workforce.
Fostering communication in the workplace is crucial. Create an open dialogue with your employees through regular check-ins so they know they’re being heard. Consult with your company’s HR department to ensure that employees have the resources to discuss their workload, morale, and levels of satisfaction with their current environment.
Flexible Work Schedules
The pandemic continues to highlight the importance of flexibility in the workplace, and it’s not time to slow down yet! Unless an employee is required in a specific capacity, letting them choose when they work is best. This allows them to rest when they need to, fit in appointments with health professionals, and a better overall quality of life at home and at work.
If you’re wondering how to accommodate disabled employees at the office, accessible infrastructure plays a big part. If employees are currently working onsite, make sure that they have access to reserved parking, automatic doors, wide hallways, and adjustable desks. If your office space relies on screens and digital displays like touch screens, it’s vital to install them close to a wall for maximum accessibility and navigational ease.
Inclusive recruitment tools like welcoming language, changing the presentation of training materials and tests, as well as trained human resource staffing can also help attract employees with disabilities.
For people with invisible disabilities like depression, autism spectrum disorder, or diabetes, opt for spaces where they can control and customize light, temperature, and sound to their preference. This could mean something as simple as providing a space heater or LED light for their space.
Compensation and Benefits
Become mental health partners with your employees! One of the finest ways to promote inclusivity in the workplace is to ensure all employees have access to physiological and mental health treatment plans.
Employee benefits shouldn’t end with insurance and medical care, of course. Providing resources for human development — expanding the richness of life by focusing on choices and opportunities — plays an important role in employee loyalty and retention. If you have the resources to, you could follow Walmart's lead in providing free college education. More affordable means to promote development could include prioritizing skill training, cross-departmental training, personal coaching, or even organizing a book club to support and engage with your staff.
“Research shows that diverse perspectives drive better business outcomes,” says Karyn Twaronite, the Global Vice Chair of Enrst & Young. “[W]hen people feel a sense of belonging at work, they are healthier and more engaged.”
It’s salient to remember that companies succeed due to the support of their employees. Employees, in turn, need to feel healthy and supported in order to perform well at work.
Understanding the Struggles and Priorities of Employees
The pandemic has seen hard working parents at their busiest; it has also highlighted the lack of bereavement support in contemporary company culture. Stress levels are high, time is limited, and there’s always more work that needs to get done. While many workplaces are now boasting flexibility for employees, less rigid schedules come with a steep cost: more work.
Research shows that nearly 40% of employees who take advantage of their company’s flexible work policies end up working more hours. Employees with other priorities at home, such as young children or ill family members, feel judged for clocking out early or even on time, as if their commitment to family care devalues their sense of professionalism.
Offering benefits for grieving employees, caretakers, and parents working full time increases employee engagement. Furthermore, employers who support these workers tend to see increased productivity levels and better retention rates for top talent. In other words, happy employees are good for business. Here are five ways to make your workplace inclusive and family-friendly.
Flexible Work Arrangements and Inclusive Work Policies
Human nature necessitates pliability. As a manager of working parents, understanding what your employee’s lives look like outside the office is of utmost importance.
Parenthood entails responsibilities that do not always abide by a set work schedule, and parents working away from home can often feel stressed and distracted. Allowing flexible, reduced, compressed, or adjusted hours, as well as extended weekends, improves work-life balance for parents. This way, they can budget sick days or care time for their children without feeling like they are falling behind at work.
This August, join companies like Procter & Gamble in promoting family-friendly policies. Start by offering parents an extra mental health day so they can spend time together for Family Fun Month!
Create a More Supportive Workplace Culture
Many parents feel guilty for choosing children over work, or vice versa. Foster an environment that supports parenting instead of cultivating a fear of demotion. Try offering fertility and adoption benefits, private nursing rooms, free breast pumps, and onsite lactation counselling. Some employers, such as Facebook, even go a step further with their support, offering employees who are new parents $4,000 in extra cash, as well as subsidized day care.
Extended Paid Maternity, Paternity, and Bereavement Leave
Maternal-infant bonding is necessary by human design. Offer new parents at least six months of job-protected leave to bond and build a life with their infants. Paid paternity leave is just as important as paid maternity leave to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Financial giant American Express grants twenty weeks of paid leave for both parents, and an extra six-to-eight weeks for birth mothers. This helps parents feel more focused and engaged when they return to work.
Similarly, traditional bereavement leave only lasts between one to four days, depending on the employee’s relationship to whom they’ve lost. Many companies are not providing leave at all, which demonstrates a lack of empathy from the employer.
Support grieving employees by following in the footsteps of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who doubled the amount of leave by offering 20 days to grieve for an immediate family member, and 10 days for an extended family member.
Extra Care and Support to Single-Parent Households
Households with both parents working see more than enough struggle, but single working parents can face much more difficulty in raising a child with an inflexible work schedule.
On the other hand, single parents working full time are more likely to help you meet your professional goals if employers help them meet their parenting goals. The tech company IBM offers single parents subsidized daycare options and a 529 plan to help them save money for their children’s college education. Additionally, IBM offers financial counseling and college coaching to help single parents juggle budgeting, raising and educating their children.
Day Care, Concierge Services, and Onsite Amenities
Offering onsite help for working parents and single mothers, such as day care and kindergarten à la Abbott, helps new parents focus on work without having to worry about how their kids are doing. It also enables an environment of trust, fosters company loyalty, and ensures higher levels of employee retainment.
Peer support is just as important for new and young parents. Offering mentorship programs like PricewaterhouseCooper’s Mentor Moms can support people going through all stages of parenthood, in the long term.
Remember that the hardships of your employees—whether they are working parents, single parents, grieving family members, or employees with disabilities—impacts the company just as much as it impacts them. But with compassion and strategic human resource management, you can create a happier, more inclusive, engaged, and stronger workforce. And, of course, a better bottom line.
SmartGift’s Team Engagement Series aims to spotlight how small interactions can have big impacts on company culture. Over the course of the forthcoming weeks, our Team Engagement Series will define challenges and pain points for employees while offering solutions for different work environments.