The great big workplace adjustments survey: now open!

By Angela Matthews, Head of Policy and Advice

Reasonable adjustments. Workplace Adjustments. Workplace support. Supporting you at work. Working in a different way. Being you.

All are terms commonly used by organisations to describe how they remove barriers for employees at work. The language is important. The process behind the language is even more important. But getting experience of both right is crucial.

It’s crucial for a number of reasons. At legal compliance level, employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where they know or could reasonably be expected to know that an employee has a disability or long-term condition. At good practice level, employers want to ensure all employees can work in a different way whether or not the employee says they have a disability or condition. At leading practice level, workplace campaigns and communications focus on how enabling employees to work in different ways is integral to workplace diversity and allowing people to simply ‘be themselves’.

Male colleagues discussing using a tablet

Here at Business Disability Forum, our advisers advise people managers and departmental leaders every day on adjustments policies and related employee caseloads. Many of our consultants are commissioned to work with businesses on improving their adjustments processes; and almost all of our policy work comes back to how Government, employers, and public life in general removes barriers for individuals. Get a service provider’s or employer’s workplace adjustments processes robustly designed and defined in a way that suits who the business are, how they work, and what they need, and that organisation is well on its way to delivering an inclusive pan-diversity employee experience that meets the needs of every single employee, whatever they are going through in their lives, and at whatever stage in their career.

Yet, anyone keeping an eye on HR press or employment case law can see the adjustments processes employers have and continue to invest in are continuing to fail them and cost them greatly – both financially and reputationally.

And so we want to find out what works, what doesn’t, what managers love, and what employees loathe. This is why we have released The Great Big Workplace Adjustments Survey which will grasp a picture of how both employees and managers across the UK feel about adjustments, how they are discussed in the workplace, how effective they are, and how far everyone who needs adjustments actually have them in place.

Whether you are an employee, a manager, or someone else managing people and processes in your organisation, we are asking you to share your experiences of requesting and getting adjustments, or arranging and providing them for the people you manage.

You can complete the survey here.

Please share it with your colleagues, managers, and employee networks. The survey closes on Monday 8 April 2019 at 8am. Please do get in touch if you would like to complete the survey in a different way (email: policy@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk).

We’re looking forward to hearing what adjustments in an ever changing workforce are helping and hindering you, your managers, and your leaders to do and to be.

Congenital Heart Defects – how a supportive employer makes all the difference

By Nicola Holt 


It’s Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Awareness week this week. These conditions tend to be overlooked in conversations about heart disease, so it’s a good chance to talk about how it can affect people, dispel some common myths; and share some ideas about how employers can make the lives of CHD sufferers a little easier.

Congenital defects start before birth, while the heart is still forming. They come in a variety of types. A hole in the heart is the most common, a condition which is easily fixed nowadays but just a few decades ago would have been debilitating and possibly fatal.

Modern medicine has come a very long way in a short space of time, so people with congenital heart defects have very high survival rates and, usually, a high standard of life. Valves can be replaced, blocked blood vessels can be opened with stents, heart rhythms can be paced, and whole hearts can be transplanted. Despite huge leaps in treatment and technology, a CHD requires lifelong care and often lifelong medication.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Living with a congenital heart defect

I was diagnosed with CHD when I was 4 and had surgery at 7. In 2014 my pulmonary valve began to fail, and I had surgery to replace it with a shiny new one. I also had a hole fixed, and a pacemaker fitted. As well as some of the more philosophical conclusions people draw when faced with a situation like that, it taught me that an efficient, well-prepared and compassionate employer is vital when you’re faced with a traumatic life event.

What would my employer think?

The last thing you need when you have a heart condition is stress. Work is one of the most common sources of stress at the best of times, and being ill is another one, so that’s an unfortunate combination.

Being told that you have a heart condition can come as a huge shock, and the necessity for invasive open-heart surgery is daunting. It’s important that an employer has processes in place to handle situations like this, and make information about those processes readily available. If it is, people can find out what to expect and plan ahead.

This is particularly important for sick pay. If the policy is clear and fair, it takes away a lot of the stress. If you’re lying in a hospital bed worrying about getting back to work, it’ll take you longer to recover.

My first thoughts, after the initial fear of being told I needed surgery, were about my job. How would they cope without me? Would they tolerate me being off for months? Would I get sick pay? If I didn’t, how would I pay my mortgage? And what about the ongoing care, months of appointments and tests? Because Fujitsu has policies for all of these it didn’t take me long to find out exactly what I needed to do, how much time I could take off, and what the pay situation was.

It’s also vital to create a supportive environment in which people feel comfortable talking about their health issues. It might seem like a very personal thing, but open communication is good for the business as well as the individual.

Friday afternoon, one hour’s notice

You don’t always get a lot of time to plan. I was phoned at 4pm on Friday and asked to go to the hospital for a pulmonary valve replacement the following Monday. An hour’s notice that I’d need around 3 months off.

Hospital timetables are complex and ever-shifting things and if a date comes up, you take it. Because I work in such a supportive environment, I was able to tell everyone what was going on ahead of time without any fear that I’d be judged. That enabled me to get a detailed plan into place so everyone knew what they needed to do and what work they’d be covering.

Even admitting that you have a heart problem is an issue for some people. It’s sometimes seen as a weakness, particularly if the person is in a high-profile, fast-paced job. As an employer, if you make it harder for people to be open about their condition, it’s going to be harder for everyone if one of your employees suddenly disappears for a few months.

The necessity for support doesn’t end with the surgery. In fact, that’s often the easy bit. Open heart surgery takes months to recover from. During that time there are all sorts of issues to manage – mobility is severely restricted, and the medication can make a quick return to work impossible.

Workplace adaptations

Fujitsu sent me to see an occupational health expert as soon as I was well enough to get there. He helped me to identify the adaptations I needed. There’s an easy ordering process for anyone who could benefit from additional help whether it’s technology or a more comfortable chair. When you’ve had your rib cage opened a couple of times, comfort becomes very important!

Those processes meant that I didn’t have to worry about booking appointments or trying to get hold of equipment. If you put too much bureaucracy in the way, people won’t get the help that they need. And, of course, the law obliges employers to make reasonable adjustments to enable people to do their jobs effectively.

Even if a CHD sufferer isn’t having surgery there are adjustments that can be made. Are they expected to carry heavy equipment? That can be an issue with some conditions, as can climbing stairs.

I have a light-weight laptop which is easier for me to carry to meetings; and multiple charging cables so I can dot them around my various working locations. The small things really matter. Employers should all have a policy for providing these.

Returning to work

A phased return to work is crucial so there needs to be a policy in place to manage this. A day or two a week, or a couple of hours a day, maybe some time working from home. Different arrangements will work for different people and different conditions.

I went back to work part time. It was disorientating and difficult. The pain was tough, the painkillers were tough, but the most difficult aspect was just not knowing what was going on. I like to know what everyone is doing and when. I like to have a plan in my head so I can make sure everything gets done. My team handled everything amazingly, but it felt disorientating. They’d coped disturbingly well without me, and I felt like a surplus cog. It took me a few weeks to get back into the swing of things.

Most people who have invasive heart surgery need a lot of aftercare. Cardiac rehabilitation and physiotherapy appointments are usually necessary for several months, and the drug treatments go on for longer. Warfarin treatment means regular blood tests and is usually long-term or even life-long.

The most important thing in this whole process was my line manager. A supportive manager makes all the difference in the world. The bureaucracy was all handled in the background while I was off, he supported me before the process and helped me plan, and all of the communication I received was supportive and helpful.

I was eased back into work with the help of all the people around me, and never felt pushed to do anything beyond my comfort zone. There’s no doubt the attitude of my manager and colleagues helped me to recover more quickly.

Friends and fellow CHD patient stories

I know I’ve been very lucky. A quick survey of friends and fellow CHD patients threw up a disturbing selection of stories from people with less supportive employers. Some were sent dozens of letters asking for updates and sick notes, some were pushed into returning to work when they weren’t ready and became ill again.

Some were passed over for promotion and believed it to be entirely because they were seen as weak, or a liability. Some even lost their jobs because their employers didn’t want to employ people who would need time off for treatment; or quit because they couldn’t cope with the stress of all the bureaucracy. All of their employers have lost out. They’ve let people go who were hard-working, dedicated and capable, just because they didn’t have the right support and processes in place.

I think what’s most impressive about the Fujitsu approach is the genuine desire to improve, continuously. The SEED group is there for long term support. Communication, training and processes are being analysed and improved to make them more effective. A happy and healthy workforce is recognised as being good for business, and the people improving these processes really care.

What could you do differently at work to help people with long-term health conditions?

Busting some myths around Congenital Heart Defects

  • Congenital heart defects aren’t lifestyle related. Staying healthy is a good idea but it doesn’t cause the defects. They’re often genetic.
  • A cure is difficult. Many people need repeated surgery throughout their lives and rely on drugs to stay healthy. Sometimes people need surgery every ten years or so, particularly if valves need replacing.
  • It’s not just about the heart. Chronic conditions like this are associated with pain, anxiety and depression so it’s important to take a holistic view
  • It doesn’t affect everyone in the same way. Some people will struggle to climb stairs and get out of breath easily. Others can climb mountains. It depends on the type and severity of the condition.
  • It’s not that rare. It’s the most common congenital defect, affecting almost 1% of the population
  • You can’t tell when someone has a heart condition. Just because someone looks healthy doesn’t mean that they are, and a lot of the issues associated with CHD are hidden. You can sometimes spot us by the impressive selection of scars though!
  • Heart problems affect people of every age. CHD is a congenital condition, it’s there before birth and throughout life.

For more information or to visit the Fujitsu Responsible Business blog – visit: http://blog.uk.fujitsu.com/category/responsible-business/#.VsNDyXSLReU 

The Click Away Pound survey is officially launched

By Rick Williams


“Here’s a question: does the Equality Act place obligations on business about making their websites accessible and usable for disabled people? Well… err…yes.

OK, so the second question: why is it so many websites aren’t readily accessible or usable for disabled people? I don’t know the answer but it puzzles me.

I’m a blind guy and use a screen reader – you know, that bit of software that reads out what’s on the screen with a voice like Micky Mouse on helium. I would say I was quite an experienced user but it amazes me the number of websites that I find hard to use or can’t use at all! This is so frequent now I got to the point of not even noticing. I just tried one and if it didn’t work I tried another wherever possible. Last year I started keeping stats just for my own curiosity. When doing a search for something new, especially if I wanted to buy something, it was surprising to find that I would typically look at three or four sites before I found one I could use easily.

Business Disability Forum. Marketing photos

Do I contact the sites I can’t access and take up the issues? Actually, I’ve given up. I have done it but… well they usually don’t understand or even reply.

On the other hand if I find a site I can use then I use it as much as possible; often even if I know I might be able to get things cheaper elsewhere. For example, I find it easier to have my supermarket shopping delivered and the best site I found to use is Ocado, so I use it. I know some things would be cheaper elsewhere but, well, the accessibility of the site and the app make it so easy why would I bother to look elsewhere when my experience tells me I’m likely to find problems.

The other thing that I find odd is that my company has been running Business Disability Forum’s e-check service http://www.e-check-it.com since 2008. In that time 70% of the sites we’ve reviewed were given a ‘red’ assessment – in other words ‘significant potential commercial, PR or legal risk’. Even more surprising is the low number of organisations who have got such assessments who’ve done anything about it!

So, putting this together: there is a law but it isn’t that successful and many businesses don’t seem to think this is an issue. OK, so what we need to do is find out what this costs businesses and maybe the bottom line will persuade them that website accessibility and usability is important as a business issue.

Working with Business Disability Forum and supported by the RNIB and Enterprise Rent-a-Car we’ve just launched the Click-Away Pound survey, which aims to find out what disabled people’s experiences are when shopping online, what they do about problematic sites and the potential costs to business of not thinking about the issue.

If you have a disability give it a go – only takes 10 minutes and will help improve the Internet experience for disabled people.”

For more information and to take the survey visit: http://www.clickawaypound.com

Rick Williams
Managing Director
Freeney Williams Ltd
http://www.freeneywilliams.com

“Trust me, I’m a doctor” – what do your line managers do when they receive a fit note?

By Christopher Watkins


File it away and hope it sorts itself out? Panic and phone HR? Or, exactly what it tells them to do?

Fit notes, or ‘Statements of Fitness for Work’ (for those with too much time on their hands) are a potentially invaluable tool in supporting people with disabilities or long-term physical or mental health conditions, but only if they are used appropriately by the managers that receive them. None of the reactions mentioned above are particularly useful to the employer but are all too common in some organisations, particularly in environments where line managers often have responsibility for large teams with high turnover.

Sometimes they’re just ignored – or, if a colleague’s absence is related to a disability or long-term condition, managers can be nervous to get involved and sickness absence can be left unmanaged to continue indefinitely, often on full pay. This is costly for the employer and of no benefit to the employee, whose employment prospects can be damaged as they lose the opportunity to pursue their career with some simple workplace adjustments.

Two people having a conversation at a desk

Sometimes managers just panic and phone HR. This is probably the least legally risky approach, but can put unnecessary pressure on often overworked HR service centres handling relatively straightforward queries.

However, it is perhaps most unhelpful for line managers to simply take everything written on the fit note as ‘gospel’, following the advice without further consideration, sometimes to the detriment of both the employee and employer.

In the most concerning cases, if an employee is being repeatedly signed off sick by their GP for stress, the line manager’s reaction can be to refuse to let them work. If the employee’s stress is related to factors outside of work, however, being prevented from working can exasperate the situation, leading to unnecessary sickness absence despite the employee feeling they were able (and continually asking to) work. This can be a highly stressful – and expensive – situation for all involved, and highlights the potential damage that can be caused by a last-minute tick-box and barely legible scrawl from an over-worked GP on her last appointment before lunch (and yes, believe it or not, over 80% of fit notes are still handwritten in 2015, five years after they were introduced as the efficient digital alternative to their predecessor[1]).

In such situations, the problem is not that the GP is wrong; indeed, there may be sensible health and wellbeing reasons behind the employee being unable to work. The danger lies where line managers take the advice on the fit note – advice written to the employee – as binding rules that they needed to follow, rather than useful medical guidance to discuss with the employee. A conversation with the employee, the GP and possibly a second opinion from an Occupational Health advisor can improve understanding of the reasons behind the absence, helping the employee back to work as quickly and supportively as possible, and saving the business considerable expense and legal risk in the process.

Deeper still, perhaps the issue is that we can’t know how often this is happening as the problem itself is that these issues aren’t escalated or recorded until things start to go seriously wrong. One can imagine many more cases where an employee with a long-term health condition or disability isn’t able to receive the support they need because (at least for the 20% of fit notes produced digitally), ‘computer says no’.

There’s been some fascinating research in recent months by the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and the University of Nottingham into this area with some helpful recommendations; the key message to me being that GPs complain that employers don’t act on their advice while employers complain the GPs don’t give them any useful information[2].

It may not be a solution, but surely a starting point here is to get GPs and employers talking to each other. Particularly with the advent of the government’s Fit for Work service, this is likely to only grow as an issue for employers as the quantity – and hopefully quality – of medical advice landing on managers’ desks increases. Like the introduction of fit notes in 2010, this is a potentially very useful and cost-effective tool if managers are properly briefed on how to use this information. If not, conflicting policies and advice from different sources may quickly prove counter-productive.

What measures have you taken to prepare your policies and inform your line managers?

For more information on managing sickness absence and disability visit: http://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/advice-and-publications/publications/line-manager-guide-attendance-management/

You can talk to Christopher at christopherw@businessdisabilityforum.org.uk or Tweet him at @chrispydubbs


[1] Nottingham University research ‘Getting the best from the fitnote’ (2015), pp. 19 (http://www.iosh.co.uk/~/media/Documents/Books%20and%20resources/Published%20research/Getting%20the%20best%20from%20the%20fit%20note.pdf?la=en) accessed 18 August 2015

[2] http://www.iosh.co.uk/fitnote

It isn’t as simple as just saying employer culture needs to change

By George Selvanera


On Channel 4’s Leader’s Debate last month, a member of the studio audience asked “What do the Conservatives plan to do to get more disabled people into work?” Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“The culture of employers needs to change.”

I imagine it was a convenient shortcut for David Cameron to say the culture of employers needs to change. The ways culture needs to change, how these changes are made and the role of Government in influencing change – both directly and indirectly – doesn’t really make for a neat, short answer.

After all, it isn’t straightforward to make and sustain changes in systems, processes and practice generally, let alone when addressing disability – a wonderful catchall term for everything from dyslexia to dementia; to diabetes to wheelchair user; to mental ill health. That said, I am encouraged by increasing numbers of private and public organisations which are making real change, with more than a hundred large private and public sector employers using the Business Disability Forum (BDF) Disability Standard to help guide their disability performance improvement.

Office environment with focus on man working in foreground

Last year’s Government disability and health employment strategy wasn’t especially practical when it pointed to BDF Partners Sainsbury’s, BT and Lloyds Banking Group (LBG) as examples of businesses that have a strong record of recruiting disabled people and then called on other businesses to do the same.

Sainsbury’s, BT and LBG each have senior disability sponsors championing a whole organisation approach to improving their disability performance. They all have networks for their disabled staff that inform employee and customer innovations for disabled people. They all invest in improving the skills and confidence of line managers to manage the needs of staff members with disabilities and long-term health conditions. They all operate workplace adjustment processes that enable access to adjustments for employees so they can be productive and happy in the work environment. They also increasingly deploy disability-smart procurement processes. The latter point is essential given the number of outsourced functions that directly impact the ability of any business to deliver for disabled people in areas such as facilities management/property, technology, recruitment and occupational health. So yes, they do well in recruitment of disabled people, but it is because they are prioritising and investing in improving disability performance across the whole organisation.

Building disability confidence is a permanent work in progress, and at BDF, it is exciting to see the way in which businesses and public sector organisations are learning from each other – sometimes even competing with each other – to get better at how they recruit, retain and do business with disabled people.

We are working with a group of BDF Partners that include Royal Mail, EY, de Poel Community and the Department of Work and Pensions to understand more about what helps and what gets in the way of organisations retaining their disabled employees. This working group is overseeing a large scale research project where more than 140 private, public and third sector organisations nationally have participated and shared their perspectives about their own skills and confidence and the quality of their systems and processes in retaining and developing disabled employees. The research will be published in June (watch out for the launch date) and sets out just how important it is to have people with visible disabilities in workplaces, effective workplace adjustment processes and organisational policies that encourage disabled people to achieve at work. It also makes clear that many organisations are getting better and want to do more.

The Government could help too. At BDF, we are often told that Access to Work remains overly complex, unfriendly and in need of substantial improvement. While some of the recent changes to Access to Work are good – most notably the end of the 30-hour guidance and the potential development of IT portals, the opportunity to make Access to Work better for business and subsequently better for disabled people, was not taken up. It seems very odd not to have an employer helpdesk or workplace based assessments that involve the employer and the employee or an accreditation scheme that would reduce red tape for employers who have a positive record of employing disabled people and interacting with Access to Work. Further still, it is extremely bad policy to introduce caps that will limit businesses capacity to recruit disabled people and so disabled people that might have worked and contributed to the tax pot, instead risk consignment to benefits.

Similarly, the Government’s multi-billion pound Work Programme would benefit from Welfare to Work providers proactively engaging with employers to ensure they are skilled and confident in managing the impact of particular disabilities for individual candidates in the specific workplace, and have the knowledge needed to support disabled staff to perform at their best.

Indeed, this approach is something for the wider recruitment industry so that they are working with candidates and employers to ensure that candidates with the right skills for a particular job are being ‘pushed’ to organisations that are confident about managing the impacts of a particular disability within a particular role at their workplace. Again however, I am encouraged by BDF work with the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCO) who are keen to build the skills, confidence and expertise of the recruitment profession to do just this. In a similar way, the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative Awards (RIDI) spotlight and celebrate excellent recruitment practices that are making a difference in securing sustainable employment for disabled people.

Increasing the number of disabled people in work and being fulfilled and achieving at work won’t happen overnight and yes, David Cameron is right about the importance of culture. But it isn’t anywhere near as simple as that. We all have a role. Government does. All parts of an organisation do – not just their recruitment section, but facilities, procurement, HR, learning and development, senior leadership, communications, IT etc. Suppliers and partners do. And as customers, we all can by transacting with businesses that state and deliver on public commitments to recruit and retain disabled people.

BDF extend a warm welcome to Graeme Whippy of Lloyds Banking Group

By Emily Jackson

dfi-session-2

Senior Disability Manager at Lloyds Banking Group, Graeme Whippy, is on a year-long secondment to BDF. For over 10 years Graeme has been at the forefront of disability at Lloyds, initially as the founder of their IT Accessibility team, then working in the Group Disability Programme team which helped the organisation secure a Gold rating in the Disability Standard in 2012 and 2014.

The team at Business Disability Forum look forward to working with Graeme to leverage the wealth of experience Lloyds Banking Group has acquired on its journey to becoming a “disability smart” organisation. Graeme’s initial focus at BDF will be to help develop a Member service around workplace adjustments based on the award winning process he implemented at Lloyds and the lessons learned. Other opportunities for collaboration include sharing and further developing best practice around recruitment, retention and colleague engagement.

Graeme said:

“I am very keen to share the corporate experience I have gained, but also to get a greater insight into the experiences of other organisations across different sectors. Being seconded is not just great for me and BDF, it’s also great for Lloyds Banking Group who have reached a level where they can now assist others.”

Event round up: Technology Taskforce Megaquiz

By Dean Haynes

A raft of BDF Members, Partners and associates descended onto Canary Wharf once again on Tuesday 2 December to attend the annual Technology Taskforce MegaQuiz. Kindly hosted by Taskforce members Barclays, the evening followed the format of many well-known quiz shows, including a blast from the past in the form of Blockbusters!

People sitting at tables ready for the MegaQuiz to beginNow in its third year, the Technology Taskforce holds the annual MegaQuiz as an opportunity for ICT practitioners and others to put their disability knowledge to the test, with this year’s quiz led by CBeebies presenter Cerrie Burnell. Eleven teams from across BDF membership pitted their wits against one another for the glory of being named Technology Taskforce MegaQuiz champions of 2014.

Lucy Ruck, Technology Taskforce Manager at Business Disability Forum, said:

“The annual MegaQuiz is an opportunity for ICT professionals to come together in a fun environment and test their own knowledge of how disability affects business against their own peers, clients, competitors and suppliers – all while having an enjoyable evening out with colleagues”.

“The MegaQuiz is also a fantastic opportunity for Technology Taskforce members to network with other like-minded individuals and learn more about how ICT plays a vital role in making our workplaces and services more accessible to disabled people”.

The first round centred on an old classic, the Blockbusters Gold Run, with Cerrie leading the teams across the board before finally asking for “a P please, Bob”. Round two was named “8 out of 10 Guide Dogs”, where teams were asked to pick the right answers from a range of stats. The missing words round came next, where disability-related headlines taken from the news had vital words removed. A host of famous faces on the picture board made up round four, where contestants had to not only put a name to the face, but also name their disability. The last round gave all the teams the chance to almost double their scores on the Never Mind The Buzzcocks’ “Next Lines” round, with points available for the artist, the next line and the artist’s impairment. As you’d expect, there were plenty of people humming their way through the songs to get the right answer!

Just before the quiz came to a close, there was a tense tiebreaker for third place between “The Scousers” from Standard Chartered and “The Quantitative Easings” from Barclays, with The Scousers darting in at the last minute to claim the third-place hamper of goodies. The Microlink-led team of “The Chiefs” were our runners-up, and this year’s MegaQuiz champions were the team from Barclays and AbilityNet.

The final scoreboard from the event

Once again, the whole evening was a resounding success, with plenty of engagement, providing the opportunity to network and meet new people, enjoy some early Christmas cheer whilst having some fun and learning more about disability.

A gallery of professional photos will be available on our Facebook page early next week. For more information on the Technology Taskforce, visit www.technologytaskforce.org