What makes a good employer

Nick Bishop

We look at how some examples of good practice when employing disabled people and how some employers are giving us hope for the future.

Rebecca chatting with colleagues in the office kitchen during her Overbury placement

Disabled people face many barriers to employment. Common barriers include a lack of physical accessibility in the workplace and misconceptions about disabled employees and the support they require.

And all this contributes to a significant disability employment gap. The employment rate for disabled people in the UK (52.7%) is way below that of non-disabled people (81.0%).

Missing out on talent

So many employers are missing out on talented disabled workers, and many are hesitant to employ disabled people. In 2021, Leonard Cheshire’s research found one in five employers stated they would be less likely to hire a disabled person.

Employers can benefit massively from disabled talent. So to help make this happen, Leonard Cheshire’s training and consultancy team provide expert support for employers, helping them become better at employing and retaining disabled staff.

One common misconception involves adjustments to the workplace or office. Around two-thirds of employers said they worried about the cost and practicalities of making adjustments to the workplace. A government scheme called Access to Work can often cover some of these costs. It can provide various support options for employees. Access to Work needs much more government promotion so it can become better known and more widely used.

There are resources out there to make things better, and there is hope. And there are some positive examples of good practice from employers that benefited from our training.

Workplace adjustment passports and improving confidence

Marketing company Merkle is one such employer. Merkle’s Disability Pillar is an established group supporting disabled employees. It had already implemented workplace adjustment passports – a live record of an employee’s workplace adjustments that can be ported to future workplaces.

Leonard Cheshire had previously called for all employers to implement adjustments passports. Yet, people at Merkle recognised there was further to go. Holly Jinks, who led the Disability Pillar, said: “Leonard Cheshire helped us achieve our aim of improving disability confidence within our managers.”

Lightbulb moments

Jessica Grayson, the company’s Paid Search Manager, finds that lessons from Leonard Cheshire continue to prove useful. Key knowledge of everyday software accessibility can go a long way and spark interest in making things even more inclusive for disabled employees.

In a Merkel website article from April 2022, Jessica says: “The barrier-free [employment] training by Leonard Cheshire was one of those lightbulb moments for me. Learning about the accessibility features of Microsoft Teams versus Zoom versus Powerpoint has no doubt made me more aware of how I can make a change for the better.”

In the last financial year, similar disability confidence training with the Langham Hotel in London – part of Langham Hospitality Group – also produced positive results for managers. A training participant said: “I feel more comfortable talking about the ways we can make better and more effective adjustments.”

Around the same time, animal welfare charity Blue Cross made their recruitment processes more accessible thanks to our input.

Homeworking is widely recognised as a positive reasonable adjustment. The pandemic proved what we’ve known for a long time: homeworking can enable people to get a job, and it works!

Identifying barriers and making changes

The charity EY Foundation supports young people from low-income backgrounds to get paid work experience, career guidance and training.

Jodie McNally, now the charity’s interim CEO, recalled: “The training was valuable and thought-provoking, helping us to identify barriers and the adjustments that remove those barriers. This made our programmes more accessible and inclusive for disabled young people."

Homeworking: a positive reasonable adjustment

Employers keen to allow working from home also provide flexibility to disabled employees, who may struggle to find accessible or quick ways into the office. As pandemic restrictions ended, the government’s ‘back to the office’ rhetoric was unhelpful and short-termist. Suppose the UK really is committed to boosting the number of disabled people in work. In that case, the government must actively encourage homeworking as a viable option.

Homeworking is widely recognised as a positive reasonable adjustment. The pandemic proved what we’ve known for a long time: homeworking can enable people to get a job, and it works!

Disability workforce reporting

If you’re looking for companies who are inclusive of disabled people, it is a good sign when companies report the number of disabled employees in their workforce, monitor these statistics and set minimum targets.

For example, broadcaster ITV’s 2021 report (pdf) found that employees who are disabled or have a long-term health condition made up 10.4% of its workforce. The company aims to hit 12% by the end of 2022.

While the pandemic slowed down earlier efforts by public service broadcasters, including the BBC and Channel 4, both are still firmly committed to increasing the percentage of disabled staff among the workforce. Channel 4 aims to hit 12% by 2023.

Continuing to make a difference

In the financial year 2021-22, our Training and Consultancy team worked with key clients such as the National Grid, the Royal Academy of Engineering and Community Justice Scotland. They helped more employers to understand the simple adjustments required for disabled employees. The team delivered 47 external training workshops reaching 418 training delegates.

You can learn more about Leonard Cheshire’s research and our employment resources on our employment campaign page.