Managing Disability in the Workplace
What is induction?
The purpose of induction is to gradually introduce a new or existing employee who has acquired a disability, to their new work environment. Induction involves gaining insight into:
- The reality of a new job, ie, the specific aspects of the work (how it is performed), the expectations of the employer and initial on-the-job training;
- How an organisation works, ie, the role of the new employee within the overall work environment and how that employee interacts with and relates to supervisors, team leaders and other work colleagues.
A range of factors will determine whether or not an organisation or company provides an induction process for new staff. While in some circumstances a new employee may be thrown in at the deep end, this is not good practice and most companies or organisations will provide some form of induction, either informally (sit and watch) or through more formal procedures.
Induction is a process which may take place irrespective of whether or not there is an official probationary period. It is usually led by a supervisor and involves the collaboration of work colleagues.
For people with disabilities who have successfully come through the interview process, effective induction is critical. Many leave their new jobs at an early stage due to the lack of or ineffective induction.
Depending on the nature and severity of the disability, it is at this stage that initial physical, communication, attitudinal and other barriers manifest them- selves, requiring an appropriate response. It should be remembered that for employers, people with disabilities and co-workers, the initial response can often be experimental or temporary. The induction process should be regarded as the initial phase of an integration programme which identifies particular needs and provides appropriate accommodations and ongoing support, as necessary.
It is equally important to remember that a new employee with a disability got the job on the basis that they are capable of undertaking the work, with (or often without) some form of accommodation or assistance. The induction process is about how to do the job and what forms of assistance are required to realise that capacity, not whether or not the job can be done. The induction period, depending on the complexity of the work environment or tasks involved, is usually quite short, but more time may be necessary when the new employee has a disability, depending on the nature and severity of that disability.
For employers, co-workers and people with disabilities, the induction process can be, to varying degrees, both a stressful and apprehensive time. The management of the work environment, appropriate assistance, education and training, collaboration of management, work colleagues and people with disabilities require sensitive consideration and appropriate action. As the process continues, where barriers are addressed effectively, it can be a confidence-building time, where an employee with a disability can enjoy the benefits of working life and the workforce and employer can benefit from their contribution.
Developing a disability-friendly and informed work environment
The approach to induction will depend on whether or not the company or organisation has a track record in employing people with disabilities and a flexible policy in relation to issues which may arise. A company/organisation may already have a well-established induction process, influenced by a disability/equality officer who is more aware and experienced in dealing with such issues. Such a person will recognise the importance of the induction phase, be aware of potentially prevalent reactions or attitudes among management or the workforce, and will provide relevant training and consult those concerned in order to influence misconceptions and address problems at the earliest possible stage.
An employee with a learning disability is undergoing induction and on-the-job training at a company. He has been hired to deliver messages. It is noticed during his training that heoften mixes up messages for ‘R. Naughton’ and ‘T. Naughton’. The supervisor knows about his disability, suspects that the performance problem is linked to it, and knows that this particular employee may be unable to ask for a reasonable accommodation because of hisdisability. The supervisor asks the trainee about mixing up the two names and asks if it would be helpful to spell the first name of each person. When the trainee says that would be easier, the supervisor instructs the receptionist to write the full first name when messages are left for one of the Naughtons
Alternatively, a company may be in the position of employing a person with a disability for the first time, in the presence or absence of a formal induction process. In such circumstances, the person with the disability will be breaking new ground and, generally speaking, managers, supervisors and co-workers will not be aware of the issues involved. There is clearly scope for such a company to gain insight from the induction processes of other organisations through the exchange of best practice. A person with a disability in these circumstances should try to discuss their situation with a person with similar experience and contribute to ways of overcoming barriers as they emerge. There may also be some level of experience among co-workers or union officials, which should be harnessed. It is essential that the induction process is characterised by a collaborative approach.
Disability awareness training
Appropriate and targeted training is often key to improving communications, addressing misconceptions and building a positive environment before or during induction. The training should be available to all relevant personnel, tailored to reflect the individual roles and responsibilities in the company – managers, supervisors, health and safety officers/representatives and colleagues. It is advisable to schedule disability awareness training even if there are no people with disabilities currently employed.
Some disabilities may have a changing impact on a job over time, either positively or negatively. Issues which were identified and addressed during induction may need to be revisited and appropriate actions taken.
Disability awareness training grants are available from FÁS. Such training should be undertaken as part of the working schedule and activities to ensure good attendance.
There are a range of organisations providing assistance, advice and support on aspects of disability.
Supervisors, managers and work colleagues may also provide valuable assistance in relation to the organisation of work and how the job is to be performed if the environment developed during induction is one of collaboration. A list of service providers is included in Appendix A.
Initial on-the-job training
The initial induction process serves to build knowledge and awareness of the work environment and to provide initial on-the-job training. It may be necessary to review the way this training is delivered in order to take account of the needs of the new employee. Remember to give sufficient time and to ensure that training materials and job instructions are available in the employee’s preferred format, such as large print, Braille, tape or disc.
Integration into the workplace
The nature of the relationship between new employees with disabilities and their managers, supervisors and work colleagues will influence the extent to which integration is achieved. While a relaxed, supportive management style will encourage ongoing dialogue and closer relationships, a highly structured and directive management style will provide a more formal, less personal environment which may suit people who feel less comfortable with intensive dialogue about their disability. There are a variety of management styles. People with disabilities must be able to work with that variety. Appropriate awareness training should give managers insights into how to deal with individuals who are more sensitive about disclosing or discussing the impact of their disability.
Equally, the relationships formed with work colleagues are critical. Developing collaborative approaches during induction will assist in ensuring the cooperation of the workers on an ongoing basis. As the impact of the disability or work practices themselves may change over time, it is important to be in position to respond and to be able to rely on the support and cooperation of work colleagues in developing solutions to barriers which may emerge.
Assignment of roles and responsibilities
The assignment of roles and responsibilities in any company is essential to ensuring the effective integration of the employee with the disability. Dealing with disability issues often requires the engagement of a range of people, including the person with the disability, who are in positions to discuss, reflect and understand problems and to contribute to or deliver a solution. This requires disability awareness training, problem-solving skills and ongoing commitment to engagement, as necessary.
A mentoring system should be considered for new employees with disabilities. This should be agreed between the new employee and the potential mentor and should have a specific timeframe. The system should operate during working hours or work-related social events. Employees with disabilities should also be trained as mentors. Everyone can benefit from the guidance of a more experienced worker, irrespective of disability.
Employers and managers need to be careful to integrate employees into whatever workplace arrangements prevail. Where such arrangements involve teamwork, employees should have opportunities not only to work with others on group projects, but, when appropriate, to assume leadership roles. Where there is no formal team approach and the work is organised in a more traditional system, employees with disabilities should be involved in staff meetings and service/event planning. Employees with disabilities should also be involved in union meetings if they are members. This degree of involvement should also extend to social events, informal employee gatherings and sporting activities, for example.