Employees avoid telling employers about less visible disabilities

The silhouette of a group of four people in an office window overlooking LondonTwo in five (43 percent) employees with a less visible disability haven’t disclosed it to their employer, according to a new poll.  The research from healthcare provider Bupa claims that not wanting to ‘cause a fuss’ (30 percent) or be treated differently (25 percent) were the key reasons for keeping their condition to themselves. Nearly a quarter of those affected (23 percent) haven’t told their employer about their condition due to worries that they wouldn’t be believed, while one in five (20 percent) expressed concerns that their disability might impact their career opportunities.

This in turn is fuelling presenteeism and could be damaging people’s health in the long term. To avoid telling bosses about a condition, people with less visible disabilities report working even when not feeling well enough (55 percent) or taking holiday to attend medical appointments (26 percent). 23 percent give a cover reason for not being able to work, when really they are unwell.

There are an estimated 10.2m people in the UK who have a less visible or invisible disability but despite this, many still experience serious issues in the workplace. Latest estimates from the Family Resources Survey indicate that 14.6 million people in the UK had a disability in the 2020/21 financial year. With Leeds University estimating that around 70 percent of reported disabilities are less visible or invisible – as cited by UK Parliament in their post Approved work: Invisible disabilities, Nov 2021 – this equates to an estimated 10.2m people.

Negative experiences in the workplace can impact mental health, including increased anxiety (34 percent), feeling down (29 percent) or depression (24 percent). Meanwhile, a quarter (25 percent) said they were less likely to ask for help when they needed it and many (21 percent) reported feeling less motivated.

These findings come as Bupa announces it has become the Official Healthcare Partner of ParalympicsGB in a three-year agreement. Through the partnership, both organisations say they will collaborate to challenge perceptions around disability in society, celebrating difference and diversity in order to help everyone achieve their goals, while promoting inclusivity in business, healthcare and all areas of life.

Meanwhile, Business Disability Forum has launched a new guide to disability language for businesses and employers. Sponsored by HSBC, ‘Lost in translation: A global guide to the language of disability’ calls on employers to break down barriers by engaging in conversations about disability at an individual and organisational level. The guide provides practical advice on reviewing and discussing language, and introducing positive change.