A lot of people with disabilities have identifiable physical signs and the potential employer may already be aware of their disability. People with mental health issues on the other hand often find themselves in a grey area and feeling anxious about what they can be open about, when and if they should tell someone, and to whom.
Mental Health and Work
The Mental Illness Fellowship of Australia (MIFA) reported in 2010 that 60% of respondents felt that employment and support for seeking employment was a key concern, second only to housing. Many stated that employment was not only feasible but also key to their recovery. A 2003 analysis showed that workforce participation rate for people with mental illness was 28.2% with the unemployment rate at 19.5%; this compares to people with physical disabilities at 48% participation and 7.7% unemployment. Furthermore, MIFA also reports that people with mental illnesses are the largest group to access disability employment services and have the lowest rate of positive outcomes for securing and remaining in employment – the report cited employer reluctance, based on misunderstanding, to recruit people with mental illness.
Though there are no legal obligations to do so, there are pros and cons to informing or not informing an employer.
Reasons to inform your employer:
- Permits your employer to investigate any potential adjustments to your working pattern – an example might be necessary time off for therapy or counselling or company support programmes
- As with any other employee with a disability, employers are legally obliged to take reasonable steps to accommodate you
- Protects your rights as a person with a disability and where necessary, your right to bring a Disability Discrimination Complaint should disciplinary action ever require such an action
Reasons not to inform your employer:
- When the mental health condition does not and will not impact the job and cannot see that you will ever require reasonable adjustment
- Your right to privacy and trusting your own judgement about your condition
- Concern that being open about your condition may lead to discrimination, harassment or might affect promotion prospects
What an Employer Can Do
Employers are legally obliged to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities. Workplace adjustments for people with mental illness might reasonably include some of the following:
- Flexible working conditions
- The option of the employee with a mental illness to work with a mentor
- Modifying the job role to reduce stress and anxiety if the job role proves stressful
- Mental health awareness training for staff and management
- Any required physical modifications
- The offer of counselling or any other help that might assist the employee to be fully productive in the work place
Support Services and Assistance
The National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy (NMHDES) released in September 2009 aims to assist people with mental illness and disabilities obtain and retain employment. There is an annual fund of $1.2b that started in financial year 2009-10.
The Disability Employment Service is applicable to people with mental illness. It provides flexible assistance for those seeking work and for those who require help as part of employment they are already engaged in.
The Employee Assistance Fund (EAF) provides assistance and access to necessary resources for employees and employers including advice on relevant workplace modifications. The EAF is the major source of funding for workplace assistance for people with mental illness and helps with education for employers regarding mental health issues; for employees it offers special support and training packages.
JobAccess provides advice and workplace solutions for people with mental illness and their employers. The service is free and has professional psychologists as part of its team. The professional services include information on the full range of government funded services, practical working solutions and how to create and maintain a productive and healthy working environment for people with disabilities or mental illness. It can also advise on the full range of legal obligations and offers information on financial assistance.
The Workplace Adjustment Tool is an online database that gives advice on potential workplace adjustments that you might make for an employee with a mental illness – and key indicators that the staff member might be experiencing an issue. A wide range of issues are covered: depression and anxiety, eating disorders, dementia and personality disorders.
Mindfulemployer.org offers a wide range of advice for employers, especially in the realms of education and awareness. They provide regular workshops with employers in mind.
Similarly, Beyondblue.org.au covers the spectrum of mental health awareness and offers advice on making a workplace a healthy place to be for people with mental illness.
Most of the developed world is now entering economic recovery. But Australia is not doing quite as well as some other countries, and there is a looming issue with something all too common during economic growth: a skills shortage. Skills shortages also occur during economic decline but it can be more pronounced during periods of growth.
Each one of Australia’s states and territories is presently reporting skills shortages in multiple areas and the problem can come in many forms:
- Not enough qualified people to fill vacant roles
- Lack of experience of qualified people applying for those roles
- Disparity between employment package and employee expectations
- Jobs that regularly attract no applicants
- Unwillingness to relocate.
Tackling the Problem
One way to address the skills shortage is for businesses to offer better conditions and higher wages, but this is not always going to have the desired effect, especially if you are looking for people with niche skills who may not be looking for work. The newly-qualified aren't always going to have the experience you desire. There is another answer and it means changing your business practice and outlook to focus in on expanding the talent pool.
Considering the disability employment participation rate in Australia and the high unemployment rate (which means they are willing and able to work), it is apparent that there is large untapped resource available to address some of the problems that Australian businesses face.
The Advantages of Employing People With Disabilities
I have discussed on this blog numerous times the impressive statistics regarding employees with disabilities:
- They take less sick time and are just as productive as any other worker
- They stay in jobs longer (are less likely to move on which is critical in jobs that require a lot of training)
- Are willing and motivated, largely because of the low participation rate of their demographic.
A company called Gitanjali Gems of India came up against a skills shortage in the latter part of the last decade. They faced two problems:
- Jewellery manufacturing is a niche skill requiring a lot of training; and
- the industry has a high dropout rate.
Their directors decided to actively pursue potential new employees from a new demographic – a group with just 8% workforce participation and a devastating 0.1% full time employment rate. Thanks to this programme, 10% of Gitanjali Gems’ employees are now people with disabilities. There has been a noticeable effect on the company, including greater productivity and lower turnover.
Actively encouraging people with disabilities into your business has clear and measurable benefits whether you have a skills shortage or not. When you expand your talent pool as far as possible, you will see only benefits.
We have 150 highly qualified and skilled employees ready to start working for your business now, so if you're finding it difficult to recruit because of a skills shortage, think outside the square.
How many people with disabilities does your business employ?
We want to hear your examples of people with disabilities improving your business outcomes. Leave a comment below and keep the conversation going. And if you want to increase your productivity, address the skills shortage and have a more reliable and stable workforce, call us at Enabled Employment. We can help.