Civil service addresses work conditions and careers of disabled employees

disabled employeesThe UK Cabinet Office has published a report in partnership with Disability Rights UK to look at ways the Civil Service can better support the careers of its 27,000 staff with disabilities and health conditions. The report claims that ensuring that disabled employees ‘fulfil their potential makes basic business sense and would significantly enhance the Service’s performance.’ It claims that there has been some progress since the last report on the subject in 1998, but that barriers remain. Nearly 9 percent of civil service employees now claim to have a disability which is more than double the reported rate of 4.1 percent in 1998. The report identifies the underlying challenges and looks to share best practice. It notes that while there is strong commitment to disability equality from senior champions, this has not been translated into line manager action and cultural change.

The barriers that civil servants living with disability and long-term health conditions face include:

  • They are significantly over-represented in the lowest box marking during performance  development reviews. An analysis of eight departments shows that in some they are twice or even three times as likely to be rated “must improve”.
  • Disabled civil servants feel that whatever their talents, skills or potential contribution, they are assumed not to be able to deal with the pressures and are therefore passed over for new responsibilities and promotion.
  • They face significant problems with workplace adjustments and job structures.  Workplace adjustments (often described as “reasonable adjustments”) are not universally  accepted as “business as usual”. They are seen as a privilege not a necessity or a right in parts of the Service and also as a “hassle” and a cost as opposed to an investment. Many needing workplace adjustments face long waits for these to be put in place, significantly damaging their own and corporate productivity.
  • They are less likely than other under-represented groups to say “I can use flexible working  arrangements (e.g. telecommuting, flexible work schedule or a compressed working week)  without harming my career” (41 per cent compared to 51 per cent overall).
  • Discrimination, bullying and harassment are still reported by large and disproportionate numbers of civil servants with disabilities and health conditions. In the Removing Barriers to Success survey, 56 per cent of respondents with a disability reported personal experience of discrimination, bullying, harassment or victimisation at work in the past 12 months.

The report concludes that programmes require sustained and structured follow-up to recoup the individual and corporate investment made. They are not currently evaluated in terms of their impact on progression over a number of years, and they will only work in conjunction with measures to fix workplace adjustments and address cultural barriers to promotion.

It argues that there are a range of solutions that could help to erode or take down these barriers. These include addressing the conscious and unconscious biases of managers, a greater onus on ensuring that workplace adjustments are widely recognised and implemented, greater availability of flexible working arrangements including job sharing and job carving, the use of job champions and mentors to promote career progression, a challenge to recalcitrant cultural issue including those related to perceived ‘norms’ about employees.