We all need to talk more about health and wellbeing at work, says Business Disability Forum

11 January 2019

As a new year begins, a leading business and disability organisation is calling for greater openness in the workplace around health and wellbeing.

Business Disability Forum, a not-for-profit membership organisation, provides support, advice and training to help organisations become fully accessible to disabled employees and customers. Its members range from FTSE 100 companies and central Government departments to transport providers, public services, higher education providers and charities.

Business Disability Forum’s Head of Policy and Advice, Angela Matthews, said:

“It can be hard for someone to talk about their disability or condition at work. But as many conditions are not always immediately apparent, it is vitally important that employers nurture organisational cultures and practices where colleagues feel comfortable to talk about what they need to be able to work in a way that suits them and how they manage life with a disability.

“We commonly hear that when people share information about their disability, they are met by others not knowing how to react. The organisations we work with have seen that ensuring staff know they can talk about a disability and how they manage their condition without being met by ‘awkwardness’ or discrimination leads to a happier and more engaged workforce.”


Angela Matthews

Mental health and wellbeing

A recent study conducted by Business Disability Forum and looking specifically at the views of young people in relation to mental health and wellbeing supports this argument.

Some 91 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds who participated in the study stated that it was the responsibility of an employer to support the good mental health and wellbeing of their employees. The study also found that 65 per cent of respondents would consider leaving a job if they felt their mental health needs were not supported.


Man in hands as the image says 90% of young people want to talk about mental health

Angela said:

“From our research it is clear that young people want to talk more about mental health and wellbeing, but often feel that employers and universities are not ready to listen to them.”

An ageing workforce

But Angela is keen to point out that health and wellbeing in the workplace is not only a matter affecting younger workers but is, in fact, a multigenerational issue.

In March, Angela will be addressing a Health and Wellbeing at Work conference looking specifically at the challenges and opportunities presented by an ageing workforce.

With people living and working longer and with busier lives (such as learning while working or having caring responsibilities) the workforce demographic is rapidly changing.

Figures from ACAS show that by 2020 a third of the workforce will be aged over 50. As the likelihood of acquiring a disability increases with age, this means that a greater percentage of the workforce will have a disability or be managing a condition, as time goes on.

Angela said:

“Employers are seeing recruits wanting flexibility, greater work-life balance, and jobs that allow them to manage their condition and caring responsibilities whilst also offering opportunities to progress and develop their career prospects. We are seeing employees over 50 ready to embark on a new career and do something completely new.  There are huge pay-offs for organisations which get it right and can benefit from the experience and expertise, which a multigenerational workforce can bring.”

Advice and support

Angela heads up the work of Business Disability Forum’s advice service which provides members with support on how best to meet the needs of disabled employees and customers.

As well as providing bespoke advice the team has also produced a briefings and line manager guide series to provide up-to-date best practice and practical guidance on how to recruit and retain people with disabilities.

The briefings, sponsored by HSBC, cover employment adjustments for a wide range of disabilities and conditions. Briefings on adjustments for people with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome, and for people with cancer, were recently added to the series, and new briefings on asthma, HIV and AIDS, muscular-skeletal, bowel conditions and epilepsy, are coming soon.

The line manager guides cover topics such as attendance, making adjustments and non-visible disabilities and are aimed at equipping non-HR professionals with the confidence to hold conversations about disability and wellbeing and discussing colleagues’ needs.

Alongside the guides and briefings, Business Disability Forum will also be hosting a series of events and workshops throughout 2019 covering aspects of health and wellbeing at work.

Angela said:

“We know that for employees and employers talking about topics that are personal to us can be difficult. We see our role as providing the tools and advice which people need to have effective and supportive conversations and the pragmatic solutions which can lead to a successful, sustainable outcome for everyone.”

You can find out more about the work of Business Disability Forum, and its resources, events, and membership at www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk #DisabilitySmart


This story appeared in Public Sector Today: view here