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What are we missing in Return to Office discussions?

I’ve looked at a lot of the issues around returning to the office and, full disclosure, I do believe at least some sort of in-office experience is important in the vast majority of companies. However, in the rush to return, I think companies are minimizing or ignoring the effect this can have on some of our staff.

Estimates suggest that anywhere from 40-50 million people in the US and just over 20% of the working population are individuals with a disability. Many of these disabilities are nonapparent or “invisible” and only a relatively small percentage of those disclose their needs at work.

Why is that?

Unfortunately, trust is a big part. Concerns vary from fears of not being hired to not being promoted to being harassed or treated differently from others to other issues.

In returning to the office, companies discuss the need for reasonable accommodations with the suggestion that if someone has a need to work from home due to a disability, if reasonable for the company/position, they would certainly consider that. How does that help, however, when employees don’t discuss their disability and won’t bring it up?

So, what can we do if we don’t know there’s a problem?

That’s on us. We have clearly not done a good job in encouraging workers to speak up with their needs and trust that we will work with them for the best outcome. In your department or organization, do you provide any education to your staff about disabilities? Do your policies/procedures address access for all and specifically mention disabilities? Are your benefits and employee perks developed to address a variety of needs/experiences? Do you use words like “normal” or “regular” for individuals without disabilities (which is off-putting) or do you truly embrace and celebrate diversity?

Think about it. If you have a disability, how do you want to be treated? Is your organization conducting operations in ways that anyone looking on would see as inclusive or would they experience something else?

We are addressing worker and skill shortages in a lot of industries and yet we’re missing out on opportunities for a large population of productive, skilled, and enthusiastic workers. Whether you’re encouraging your staff to return to the office or just relooking at how you conduct your operations, make sure you’re doing what you can to support success for all employees.

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