When we think of making reasonable adjustments in the workplace to accommodate employees with varying needs, it’s common to think of visible disabilities – wheelchair access to a building for example. However, in our work with companies both large and small we’ve found that there’s a vast number of less obvious adjustments that employees need, but often don’t ask for. In fact, it’s quite common that these changes are only minor, but will have a noticeable impact on staff sickness absence and employee productivity.
For example, we’ve worked with a company previously where the temperature of the open plan office had a detrimental effect on some employees. The IT team – who were surrounded by monitors and servers giving off a lot of heat – found that they needed the air conditioning on. However, just a stone’s throw away were the HR team who would often find themselves extremely cold as they were not surrounded by over-heating appliances. This simple disparity in office temperature requirements was understandably impacting various individuals and affecting their performance, but only a minor adjustment was needed to accommodate everybody.
So just how can businesses identify what adjustments need to be made to create a more productive working environment?
Understand the make-up of team
In the first instance it’s important to gain better insight into not only wider workplace demographics, but also the characteristics and drivers of individuals in the team. Knowing what type of people are in the organisation and what influences their work as an individual and within a team will be the foundation for identification of required workplace adjustments. The office temperature example above demonstrates that simply knowing how people operate can provide insight into required adjustments. Better understanding of any disabilities – both physical and otherwise – and how these impact the individual and those they work with is also crucial in identifying how your workforce operates at the moment.
Talk to staff
Perhaps the most important step, though, is to encourage a culture of openness and communication whereby employees feel comfortable highlighting any changes to their environment that they may need. This includes helping individuals identify how the environment around them impacts their ability to perform at their best. Offering assessments, for example, can help guide staff in this process. By encouraging and indeed rewarding two-way conversations with employees, businesses will find that they can not only better identify any required adjustments in order to improve productivity, but also staff satisfaction. And as many business commentators state, a contented workforce is a productive one.
While encouraging staff to highlight any challenges they are facing is the first step, if this culture is to truly be embedded, managers need to be following up on these and making noticeable changes. However, one limitation that we often find when identifying and implementing adjustments in the workplace is that managers simply aren’t aware of what to do when something is raised with them. There are many competencies of senior members of staff that are often assumed, and handling sensitive situations such as the need for adjustments is such a skill. There needs to be a clear process in place that ensures managers know the steps to take once an individual raises a concern and actions must be allocated to individuals throughout every stage to make sure changes are actually made.
Avoid the fear factor
Finally, don’t go about identifying adjustments with the niggling concern of financial costs holding you back. If there are large scale amendments needed, employers do have access to government funding through the Access to Work scheme. Remember, though, that in the majority of cases these amendments to working environments can be small and cost little or nothing to implement, but the long term benefits can be huge. The reduction of staff sickness and an increase in efficiency will have a positive impact on bottom line figures that will leave you wondering why you didn’t take action sooner.
By Kate Headley, Development Director at The Clear Company