It’s a cliché, but still true that for most businesses their people are not only their most important asset, but also their most expensive. Recruiting and retaining the best people who are equipped with the right skills needed to do the job is crucial for any employer. As 20% of the working population are disabled, and eight out of 10 disabled people acquired their disability during the course of their working life, it’s a difficult issue to avoid.
In business, as in society as a whole, there are many misconceptions about disabled people, probably driven by the overwhelmingly negative image of them in the mainstream media. Private, public and third sector organisations are all concerned about saving money in these very uncertain economic times, and employing disabled people can feel like an expensive luxury we can no longer afford. However, the reality is somewhat different, and interestingly, company surveys consistently conclude that organisations who have successfully employed disabled people are keen to employ more.
Understanding the commercial potential of employing disabled people is always a good starting point for exploring the business case. There are around 11 million disabled people in the UK with spending power of up to £80 billion a year. That’s an awful lot of money, and employing disabled people, understanding disability and generally having a proactive attitude towards disabled customers or service-users could be hugely rewarding to your organisation’s bottom line.
And staying on the money side of things for a bit, it is much, much cheaper to retain a staff member who has become disabled than try to recruit someone new. The Post Office estimates that medically retiring an employee can cost around £80,000. Not to mention that if you were to become involved in litigation with regard to a disability claim under the Equality Act 2010 there is currently no ceiling to the compensation that can be awarded at tribunal. In addition, consider the time, hassle and damage to your reputation that a court case would involve.
From purely a recruitment point of view, if you positively seek to attract applications from disabled people you will have a much wider choice of potential employees with a good range of skills and a positive attitude towards work. Studies show that on average disabled employees are just as productive as their non-disabled colleagues (sometimes more so), have less time off sick, fewer workplace accidents and stay with their employers longer, increasing retention and saving money on recruiting and training new staff. Showing a positive approach towards disability also tends to foster good relations with other staff and generally enhances your reputation as an employer of choice.
So all in all, it’s worth overcoming the perceived barriers to employing disabled staff – and perceptions are usually all they are. For example, 45% of employers think that they won’t be able to afford to employ a disabled person – they feel that making reasonable adjustments for them will be costly and difficult. In reality, most disabled employees don’t need any adjustments at all. Of those that do only 4% cost money, and the average cost of adjustments is £184 per disabled employee. With grants and expert support available from a variety of agencies such as Access to Work, even this is usually paid for.
Obviously employers are looking to get the best people for their organisation, and yet some will automatically exclude disabled applicants, who may have just the skills they are looking for. Shockingly, some employers still think that disabled people have nothing to offer – perhaps they should try telling that to Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Winston Churchill, David Blunkett and Richard Branson.