Ebunola Adenipekun, Business Disability Forum
Under “normal circumstances” (pre COVID-19) awareness days offer organisations an opportunity to celebrate difference and to increase understanding of a disability or a long-term condition. And there are lots of them! Indeed, we list a number of awareness days on our website.
Typically, awareness days are about coming together – via a workshop or events, conversations with people managers, out-of-house experts providing a day of learning or visual cues – such as Purple Light Up – to spark informal conversations.
For example, one awareness period is National Work Life Week which offers “an opportunity for both employers and employees to focus on well-being at work and work-life balance. Employers can use the week to provide activities for staff, and to showcase their flexible working policies and practices”.
Importantly, to make real and lasting change, awareness days need to be backed up by practical action and the confidence to make workplace adjustments, for example. But they can be a great way of shining a light on difference and particularly of boosting understanding of less well-known conditions.
It can be enough of a challenge when employees are all office-based, but how can we keep this going in lockdown?
Businesses should focus on how everyone in their organisation can benefit from learning about how disability may affect their colleagues or customers, bringing understanding and where necessary, change. This could prove to be a challenge or opportunity when colleagues may not be in a collective space physically, but it can also provide more time and opportunity for a tailored approach via technology. To take the example of National Work Life Week, this could be a great opportunity to put the theory (around work life balance and flexible working) into practice!
Your organisation may find that awareness days are a good opportunity not only to talk about one particular disability or long-term condition that may not have come to the forefront before, but also to show that listening, support and adjustments are embedded in your organisational culture, by equipping managers to support employees with the disabilities or long-term conditions that they have talked about. This could perhaps happen in a teleconferencing call or via webinars to skill-up people managers with the right expert knowledge.
We know that in some cases, awareness days may highlight the fact that practical support is not there. But tackled in the right way, with an honest acknowledgement that there is more to do and a senior-level commitment to learning, improving and getting it right, they can still present an opportunity. And we are here to help! We can support you to put in place the practical action and building blocks that will help you make meaningful change for all your employees. Our Business Partners, Advice Service and Consultants are all on hand to provide the tailored support you need to ensure awareness raising and eradicating stigma is backed by action.
Businesses may also find it relevant to talk about awareness days with their customers if the options are available to get in touch in some virtual format, this could help to build an internal and external culture of trust.
Coming up in May is Mental Health Awareness Week (18 to 24 May 2020) – a great opportunity to promote, or improve, wellbeing in the workplace. Arguably that’s more important than ever in these strange and worrying times and so don’t forget that we have created a dedicated Mental Health toolkit for line managers, D&I teams and senior leaders packed with practical advice to help you get to the heart of mental health in your workplace.
Of course, businesses need to ensure that they have actions that take place throughout the year – not just on one day. But this period of uncertainty, it may be a better time than ever to get involved.