"Don't be afraid to ask for help." It's a phrase many supervisors toss out, but for myriad reasons, direct reports don't always feel comfortable doing so.
The fear of asking for help at work doesn't just stop at daily tasks. This trepidation extends to disability accommodations, too. By internally rebranding certain accommodations to "job aids" or "productivity tools," experts say leaders can create the kind of environment where their employees feel safe speaking up about their disabilities.
"We're seeing a shift from the word ‘accommodation' to just ‘Does anyone need anything to make this meeting more successful?' That stigma from ‘Oh, I'm doing something special. I need to be accommodated' is starting to go away," Global Disability Inclusion CEO Meg O'Connell told HR Dive. "We're seeing a lot more [messaging to the effect] of, ‘Hey, access and inclusion are part of who we are and what we do.'"
Andy Valenzuela, chief human resources officer at HireVue, told HR Dive that he credits COVID-19 with opening up the neurodiversity or "invisible disabilities" conversation. "For almost two years now, people have experienced more isolation, uncertainty and burnout than ever before, and we're at a point where we cannot avoid conversations about mental health in the workplace any longer," Valenzuela said in an email.
"People are quitting their jobs at record rates, even switching careers entirely, because they are finally putting their mental health care and happiness first," Valenzuela added.
Like many companies, HireVue has bumped up its voluntary mental health accommodations, such as "half-day Fridays every other week" and a companywide vacation this past August. Valenzuela's team also boosted HireVue employees' benefits package options.
Something disability inclusion advocates want HR pros to keep in mind is that typically, job aids for one employee will likely benefit the whole company. O'Connell recounted a story about a neurodiverse client with ADD, where the client was nervous about her manager's "no computers, no cell phone policy."
The rule was implemented to reduce distractions. In turn, the client needed to play a game on her computer to help her focus — by doing so, she could recount the details of a meeting like a "court reporter."
As a hack, O'Connell's team encouraged the client to volunteer herself as the meeting notetaker. "Tell them that this is part of your process of paying attention and staying engaged and staying focused," O'Connell recalled. "Who's gonna say no to that?"
Andy Traub, vice president of Allied InclusionWorks, told a similar story about a military veteran who couldn't remember the startup procedure for work machinery due to a traumatic brain injury. Initially, a co-worker would come help him start up the machinery four to five times daily. One night, his manager wrote out the procedure on a notecard and left at the employee's station the next day. It made all the difference — to the point where the entire team made laminated note cards for their stations. Later laminated posters were placed at every machine in the company.
"When we hear the word ‘accommodation,' what people automatically think is, ‘OK, it's a long arduous process. It's something that somebody is going to get a legal team involved in. It's going to cost us money. And oh, by the way, this person is now, you know, a troublemaker,'" Traub said. "The ironic part about it is, oftentimes what's a good accommodation for one person is going to be universally applicable to many people."