When kitting out an office to suit all physical needs, there is the assumption that this will involve purchasing ‘specialist’ equipment, which is not only expensive, it is often not in-keeping with the overall office décor.
For this reason, many office managers tend to bury their heads in the sand, adhering only to the strictest disability requirement laws, such as disabled toilets, designated parking and adaptable access.
As a result, many offices are simply not equipped for a disabled worker to start working there without any adjustments, as highlighted in this survey carried out by CMD in partnership with Shaw Trust, the national charity for helping disabled workers find employment in the UK. The survey found that there are several measures that would need to be put into place before a disabled worker could start work in the majority of offices – however, most of the changes required would not cost much and would often benefit all employees, not just those with a disability.
If it’s not broken, why fix it?
In many cases, working conditions are less than ideal for disabled employees, even once they are employed.
Often, they are expected to put up with substandard working environments that technically tick the legal boxes but don’t take overall comfort into consideration. However, a lot of the factors which would make a disabled employee uncomfortable are equally applicable to other staff.
Not providing these adjustments is not only unpleasant for the employee, it can also have a negative impact on the company for a number of reasons, including:
- Poor ergonomics can accentuate physical discomfort, potentially resulting in the employee taking time off sick; thus costing the company money in both sick pay and temporary employment cover.
- Additional discomfort due to ‘make do’ working conditions will undoubtedly have a negative effect on staff retention. This will incur additional recruitment fees, not to mention the subsequent training involved with a high staff turn-over.
- Companies that aren’t disability-friendly will immediately be limiting their recruitment opportunities, cutting out a high proportion of highly qualified and experienced recruits.
- There is also the very real fact that companies who aren’t seen to cater for employees of all physical abilities are perceived as being backwards thinking, which could result in a negative reputation when trying to recruit new staff and attract new clients.
Small changes can make a huge difference
The good news is, the changes needed to create an inclusive working environment aren’t extreme, in fact most of them adhere to basic ergonomic requirements which are applicable to all workers, rather than specifically catering for the needs of disabled people.
Office ergonomics have come on leaps and bounds in recent years, making it easier than ever to adapt standard office equipment to create an inclusive working environment to suit workers of all physical abilities.
Equipment such as height adjustable desks, adjustable monitor arms and desk mounted power modules enable any employee to work at any work station, adapting their desk arrangement to suit their own personal requirements. Being tall or short may not be a disability, but having to sit in an awkward position or stretch in order to work can cause pain and discomfort – so this equipment will benefit all staff.
As highlighted in the survey, another under-considered area is accessibility. Simple measures such as positioning plug and USB sockets on top of the desk rather than underneath can make the world of difference to someone with restricted movement – or even to someone who is pregnant.
Catering for employees of all abilities
Rather than just look at what ‘disabled workers’ need to improve their comfort at work, and viewing it as an awkward additional cost, employers should consider the benefits to the workforce as a whole of making reasonable adjustments to the workplace:
- Restricted movement isn’t exclusive to employees who are registered as disabled. Employees suffering from bad backs, older or heavily pregnant workers or those with temporary injuries will also benefit from an easily accessible, adjustable workstation.
- It is much easier to create a flexible workplace, allowing employees to hot desk or swap desks to be near the team that they may be working with at a particular time.
- Once adjustable workstations are introduced as standard, there is no restriction as to the amount of disabled employees that a company can employ.
- Improving comfort will often improve staff engagement and productivity
The benefits that come as a result of looking at the bigger picture and investing in adaptable, office equipment are huge, and will ultimately benefit the entire company, rather than just disabled employees.