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In this podcast, we discuss HSE’s simple principles and guidance to support disabled workers and workers with long term health conditions in the workplace.
Moya Woolley, Occupational Health Policy Team Leader at HSE and Rebecca Hyrslova, Policy Advisor at Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) discuss the guidance and Talking Toolkit to help businesses create an inclusive approach to workplace health.
For more information on the campaign visit Work Right for everyone - Work Right to keep Britain safe
HiEB Podcast: Disability in the Workplace Transcript
Mick Ord (Host):
A warm welcome to you wherever and whenever you are listening to this HSE podcast on disability in the workplace. My name's Mick Ord, and over the next 30 minutes or so, we'll be looking into how businesses can support their disabled staff. And along the way, dispel some of the myths and assumptions that are knocking around about the rights of people with disabilities at work, including those with long-term health conditions.
According to the Federation of Small Businesses, 25% of company owners are either disabled or have a health condition. And given that there are 5.5 million small businesses in the UK, that percentage amounts to more than 1.3 million disabled-owned companies. That's before you even begin to count the number of disabled people in work.
In 2022, there were 4.5 million disabled people in employment according to the Department of Work and Pensions. And yet there is still a perception among many people with disabilities that companies could still do more to understand and support them in the workplace, even though they've undoubtedly been great strides over the past 20 or 30 years.
Last November, HSE published a new guidance for businesses, which they called the Talking Toolkit. It's a really practical guide, which stresses the importance of making sure workplaces are accessible for disabled people and that staff communication is clear and inclusive with the appropriate occupational health support available.
Moya Woolley is Occupational Health Policy Team Leader at HSE, and one of her priorities is to manage the delivery of this new guidance to benefit workers and managers. Moya, welcome to the podcast.
Mick Ord (Host):
Nice to see you.
Rebecca Hyrslova is a policy advisor at the Federation of Small Businesses and is the FSBs lead on their disability and health policy portfolio.
Last year, the FSB published a report Business Without Barriers, identifying the issues which affect business owners and highlighting what actions we can take to make our businesses successful for everyone involved, Rebecca, thanks for joining us in the podcast.
Hi, Mick, great to be here today.
Mick Ord (Host):
Now, Moya, if, if I can start with you, why did HSE feel it necessary to produce the toolkit in the first place?
Great question. So, the guidance we developed was in response to a government consultation that is called Health is Everyone's Business. And it also fits really nicely with HSE'S 10-year strategy to reduce work-related ill health. The Government's response to the Health is Everyone's Business consultation, which we also call HiEB, was published in July 2021. And set out some of the measures that government will take to protect and maintain progress made to reduce ill health related job loss and provide better workplace support for disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.
The measures that government have taken forward include providing greater clarity around employer and employee rights and responsibilities. Addressing the need for employers to have access to clear and compelling information and advice that is easy to understand and is trustworthy and accessible. And also to encourage more employers to provide access to expert support services such as occupational health.
At HSE, we know it's not always easy to recruit people that you need to help your business thrive, which is why it's so important to keep and develop talent in your business. And as part of that, we developed this in non-statutory guidance. It strengthens existing guidance and provides seven clear and simple principles that employees are expected to apply to support safer people and those with long-term health conditions in the work environment.
The seven principles guide you through how best to create a supportive workplace and focus on the key elements to do this, including how you can develop your worker skills and communicate in an accessible manner. Our HSE guidance is just part of government's response. Our colleagues in DWP and Department of Health and Social Care Joint Work and Health Unit have designed a new digital information advice service to help employers and small and medium sized enterprises to support and manage disability and health conditions at work.
This is a dynamic service, which provides a tailored journey for employer users and provides a high-level overview of information and signposting onto trusted resources for service support, such as HSE's new principles, and Talking Toolkits. The new digital service from the joint unit and HSE's non-statutory principle-based guidance are designed to work together and feel seamless. They provide additional support to employers on managing health at work with different formats available to be accessible for all employers, irrespective of size or digital capacity.
Mick Ord (Host):
Now, is it fair to say that the toolkit is designed to ensure that more disabled people gain employment and set up their own businesses and also that those in employment are retained in the workplace and don't leave because they may not be getting enough support at work?
Yep. I think that's fair to say. At HSE, we considered a range of ways that you as an employer can support a disabled worker or a worker with a long-term health condition in the workplace. It's hoped the guidance may help prevent disabled workers or those with long-term health conditions falling out of work. It will help workers feel supported, valued and hopefully lead to happier, more productive work environments. The guidance may also help businesses retain key talent, which can save the resource and expense of recruiting. Advertising, interviewing, onboarding, and training new staff cost businesses significant amounts of money that can be saved if businesses can support their workers adequately and help them thrive and remain in roles.
We base the seven principles of a non-statutory guidance on the Prevent, Promote, Support model, which aims to protect people in work and keep them healthy and productive. Promote to build their knowledge and understanding and transparency within workplaces, considering the health of the workforce and how that interacts with work and to support to help people get back into work and remain in work.
We also develop the principles with disability charities, unions and business representatives in a task and finish group. So, we know that the principles work to those we want to apply them. The principles represent best practice and go beyond what the law requires, though following them will help you develop a supportive enabling workplace culture. And many of the principles require only small changes to be made, which can have a huge impact on an individual's experience at work.
Mick Ord (Host):
Now Rebecca, I mentioned the FSB report, which was published last year: Business Without Barriers. What would you say are the main barriers to more employment of disabled people, either running their own businesses or as employees?
Thanks Mick. Also, thanks to Moya. It was great to hear a little bit of the HSE's perspective on the toolkits that we also were a part of creating. To answer your question, Mick, you ask about disabled employees and disabled business owners, and I think there's a great overlap in the barriers that they experience, perhaps from slightly different angles.
So, in our report, Business Without Barriers that you mentioned, we found that 52% of disabled entrepreneurs have experienced some form of barrier due to their disability or health condition, and the three that were most commonly cited: 34% said that they were unable to commit consistent hours or meet very short deadlines. Then we had 15% of disabled entrepreneurs struggling to get or apply for even financial support. And then 11% cited access to equipment as a barrier. There were some other issues often around business support and accessible training. Now, I appreciate that it's not going to be every disabled employee's everyday battle to apply for finance, but that sort of issue around very strict deadlines or perhaps, you know, written applications, a strict format that may not suit them. That can be said for disabled employees as well.
So, the barriers are around perhaps flexibility, whether that is to do with work pattern or even the format of the actual job that they have to carry out or even the application process. So that's the sort of retention and recruitment issue. I actually spoke to one of our members who is a disabled business owner and because of his disability, he has this key focus in his work to get more disabled people in the workforce.
He told me a little bit about how he tries to tackle these barriers that he had to overcome himself to enter into the workforce, but also to get more people into his business. And he talked about how he recently hired a web developer, and it was through a standard hiring process, and the employee did not disclose any disability at that point.
So, it wasn't until he was sort of well into his job that it became obvious that he's not really great when it comes to long conversations. So long meetings, generally group conversations, and also client interaction, direct client interaction. So, because he's aware just how important open communication is, he made sure that that's established in his business.
And through that discourse, he basically found out that indeed this employee had Asperger's. And they kind of spoke about the ways to help him feel better at work because there is this human angle on managing sickness absence, and then there's the productivity angle for the business as well. So, they had a discussion. They decided that this particular employee didn't have to attend group meetings. Instead, he had a transcript afterwards that he could read through, that any sort of communication was not done through ad hoc calls on Skype, but instead was written communication. And these little tweaks translated into greater productivity of the employee, greater happiness at work for him, because he wasn't put on the spot in a way that maybe felt uncomfortable for him. And you know, these adjustments were really at no impact to the business. I mean financially, even performance wise, because the employee in this particular scenario was a web developer, so a lot of his work was done online. So yeah, it's just a great example to show that these barriers that we found were the most common, both for entrepreneurs and employees about accessibility and formats and deadlines, et cetera, are relatively easy and not often costly to overcome.
Obviously, there is some more costly adjustments, but for that, there's government support schemes that employers can apply for to help facilitate that, which is very well addressed in the HSE guidance as well.
Mick Ord (Host):
And I think it's probably the first initial conversation that is most difficult, isn't it? Do you think Rebecca, I've been in similar situations myself, and you're thinking, how do I tackle this?
But in the right end environment, once it's out there and everybody knows about somebody's disability and that, it's a lot easier than you might imagine, isn't it?
Absolutely, and you're right in saying it's probably the first initial conversation, and I think that with small businesses, but it will be businesses generally speaking, you may not know what's appropriate for you to ask. Of course, you want to ask because it's your duty to make sure that a workplace is safe for an employee. But you also don't want to overstep the mark, and this is where the Talking Toolkit is particularly useful because you get direction in what questions can help you get to that desired outcome, which is to be aware of what's happening to your employees and how to facilitate a safe, healthy environment for them, but equally not perhaps overstep a boundary that may not be clear in terms of just how much your employee also wants to tell you. So, there's definitely. The perfect space for something like talking to toolkits or generally the guidance to, to come into play.
Mick Ord (Host):
Moya, do you want to give us an example of what that first conversation or really maybe the preparation for that conversation might be? If someone needs an issue to be addressed at their work but is not quite sure how to go about it.
Yeah, I just want to say that Rebecca is spot on that conversation and that early conversation is exactly what those Talking Toolkits are there to enable. It's one of the things that came out of our user research that knowing what to ask and when to ask it could be a real barrier to kind of making changes that'll help an employee stay in work.
So yeah, in response to what you were saying, yeah, we've created seven Talking Toolkits that each fit round a different principle. Which each start a different conversation or can help start a different conversation that you can have with your employee. They're also quite a useful tool as well for the employee.
If you are trying to work out how to have that conversation with your employer, that Talking Toolkit can give you kind of the questions or some of the things you can start thinking about sharing and also give you a structure for it. So, I said there's seven of them. There's one around creating a supportive workplace, taking an inclusive approach, understanding barriers in work, making suitable, adjustments, developing skills and knowledge, using effective and accessible communication, as well as supporting sickness, absence of return to work. So, you can, depending on your employee, you can use one when you need it. You could rotate them around as part of regular check-ins. So, they're kind of, they're standalone, but they also work together and then you can print them out and also write on them. So, if you are trying to work in a place where you don't have digital capacity, you can take them and have a chat with your worker like that. So yeah, as I say there's seven of them and they're all just, they’re quite nice ways to start a conversation.
And one of the most important things about using them is obviously to listen. There's no point having a conversation with your employee if you're not listening, you're not thinking, you're not thinking how to support it. And then they also help you do that by asking you what you've agreed and what points you're going to take forward.
Mick Ord (Host):
I think I'm right in saying there's still a misconception among some non-disabled employers that once they think about access to work or adjusting at work, it's going to cost them a fortune. And that's really not the case, is it?
Really not the case. Adjustments can help remove barriers that are physical, organisational barriers and attitude or social barriers. But the adjustments you can make are as simple as alternative work patterns. So, for example, you might have an employee who's experiencing symptoms of menopause and struggles to sleep well. They can ask to start later in the day, so they get some rest. It can be as simple as assistive software, so screen readers or using the captioning service on an online meeting platform. It could be allowing a phased return to work or using, as Rebecca's outlined, different communication formats to fit the person.
And all of those kind of things are quite simple and they don't take a lot of time or money to implement. It's just knowing what works for individual. For example, one of the things we found in our user research was a worker in a tech firm who was suffering from anxiety, and he found it difficult to predict when he would feel anxious, and he felt particularly anxious on public transport. So, the tech firm he was working for decided to try and create a more supportive workplace environment for them, and therefore, the worker felt more confident in approaching the management to talk about his condition. So, the company made some adjustments. The worker was allowed to work from home a bit more, and the number of meetings he had to attend in person was reduced. And when he did have to come to in-person meetings, the company paid for a taxi rather than the worker having to use public transport, which heightened their anxiety. And the benefits. Were quite significant for the company. The cost of taxis was met by the trade-off against not having to pay for office space for this person, and the worker also gets a grant for the transport through the access to work scheme. And the worker, since those adjustments were made, was more productive.
So small changes can have big impacts, and you get to retain that talent that is very difficult to replace and replicate, and you get to help create this supportive environment that not only helps that one person but helps that culture across the business. And help people see that you are a business that wants to help people. And you know, people feel happier in their workplace.
Mick Ord (Host):
Sure. Rebecca, in the FSB report, you say that 34% of small business owners say their mental health declined over the course of the pandemic. Can you give us a few real life or maybe typical examples of how this manifested itself?
Yeah, I mean, I think generally speaking, the pandemic highlighted the importance of prioritising mental health, and it's not exactly a new argument that there is a link between workplace and mental health, but often the discussion focuses around employees and generally what employers can do to help their employees' mental health. In regard to work.
we've kind of seen there is a bit of a gap in addressing actual mental health of employers as well, because I mean, it comes as no surprise that it's quite stressful to run a business. And especially when in a way you are responsible for your employee's mental health as well. So, what we looked at is obviously you have the closures, restrictions, lockdowns, all that kind of stuff, of course would be very detrimental to one's mental health if their business is at stake. But there were some sort of other key issues where employers found that their mental health was deteriorating in Covid. You said it was 34%, and you're right, we found that a third of small business owners said that their mental health declined. But interestingly, that actually was two thirds, so 66% in those who had a mental health illness.
So, you're already looking at, you know, mental health deteriorating generally, but for people that have already had a mental health illness, it's 66%. So quite a high number there. What we found is that 28% of small business owners said that it was managing their staff that had an impact on them because of course everyone was struggling at that time, so you kind of absorbed that as well. But perhaps, interestingly, 23%. So, a relatively similar amount of business owners said it was late payments that caused that decline in mental health for them. So that's quite a specific issue. One that was probably even worse in the pandemic and of course relates to everything. It relates to cash flow. It can have immediate impact, it can have long-term impact on how the business can grow, et cetera. So, it was quite a big issue on a number of different scales and timelines, and it's an ongoing issue actually. It's, it's one of our constant policy focuses, and just a couple weeks ago we've actually released a report on late payments called Time Is Money. So definitely something that we continue to look at, but that was perhaps an interesting takeaway that late payments was the second biggest contributor after managing and looking after their staff mental wellbeing as well.
Mick Ord (Host):
Interesting, yeah. Moya, an estimated 149.3 million working days were lost because of sickness or injury in 2021 in the UK – equivalent to 4.6 days per worker. Cutting this number will help to grow productivity in the UK, won't it? And presumably you’re hoping that your guidance will help contribute to this.
Yeah, absolutely. Just to touch on what Rebecca was talking about, stress, anxiety, and depression are the number one reasons for work related illness in the UK and it's on the rise. So, if you want to look at some, some resources that can help support your staff. The HSE runs a Working Minds campaign, which can talk you through what you can do and help support your staff with their suffering from work related stress.
So yes, we know that employers who invest in health and wellbeing of their workforce benefit from sickness absence, have increased productivity and improved workplace retention. And we also know that early intervention around workplace triggers for ill health reduces the risk of someone eventually stopping work altogether, and the risk of someone stopping work altogether increases the longer the worker has been off sick. So, the issues we've helped try to address with the Talking Toolkits, and the Talking Toolkits also offer a consistent approach. We know that there is significant variation on how employees manage work and health. So, the guidance does provide some advice on how to make contact during sickness absence, as well as the support you could offer. And the guidance also contains an illustrative example on what you can do, so you can help visualise how you can go through the process in your own situation through that illustrative example.
Mick Ord (Host):
Rebecca, what's your take on sickness absences?
Thank you, Mick. I think that's really interesting what Moya was saying because I mean, sickness absence as we found costs 5 billion pounds annually to small businesses. Now, sickness absence is more than just statuary sick pay. It's also the cost of other staff pay, whether it's overtime or getting someone in part-time to cover long-term absences. It's also potential loss of business. If you have a very small business with only a couple of employees, long-term sickness absence can mean that they have to close down for a couple of days, for example. So, sickness absence is a massive issue, especially for small businesses. We have campaigned for a while now to basically extend the rebate that was introduced in Covid, so government covering sickness absence because that would hugely help small business employers as well. And I think, you know, we discuss sickness absence in terms of, it's not great for the business obviously, but it's also not great for the people. We currently experience a very tight labour market. We know that there is a great amount of people that are out of work or economically inactive because of ill health. There's this issue of retention, recruitment. We know that we need to help disabled people or people with long-term health issues to get into work. So we need to facilitate appropriate workplaces for them, but we also need to be able to help them stay at work because at FSB we run a quarterly confidence survey, and one of the questions talks about growth aspirations and on average in 2022, I think it was 30% of all small business owners said that access to appropriately skilled staff is one of the main barriers to growth. So, they're having issues accessing staff, which is not surprising because there's this great pool of economically inactive people often due to ill health, so we need to help them get back in, but then also help them stay at work.
Generally speaking, the cost of replacing an employee is something like 69 months of their salary when you talk about, you know, training expenses and salary, et cetera. So cost-wise, it's efficient to help them stay at work. If you're currently struggling to access people, there's not enough people in the workforce. Equally, it's in your best interest to facilitate them to be happy and healthy at work. So yeah, sickness is a big one for small businesses.
Mick Ord (Host):
There's a huge untapped wealth of talent there, isn't there? If businesses play it right, they can tap into and really get the business firing, can't they? As you say, finding talented people, especially at the moment is difficult, isn't it?
Absolutely. As I said, recruitment is one of the key barriers for small businesses and, has been for the past year. I think there's a caveat to that as well, so I can see how perhaps for some people with health conditions, disabled people, or perhaps generally, it may be difficult to find suitable employment, whether it's to the degree of flexibility they require, or for whatever reason it may be difficult. And that is the reason why they remain economically inactive.
And this is where I think is a bit of a gap, a space that we should fill. Mainstream discourse about disabled entrepreneurship. I think it's very important that self-employment is discussed as a mainstream Bible option for disabled people to enter into the workforce because it does provide that flexibility.
You can find what you perhaps are seeking in employment, but. Can't find a suitable option for yourself, you can create that for yourself. And we have actually found that more disabled people are likely to go into self-employment. And I think for the government it should also be an area of interest because of course, a lot of their recent announcements have centred around participation.
And because we know that there's a great pool of disabled people that perhaps are staying away from employment for that reason. Yet a lot of the interventions are focusing on employees, and there's a slight lack in incentive, but also facilitating self-employment for potential new disabled entrepreneurs.
Mick Ord (Host):
Moya, do you want to add to that?
Moya Woolley: Yeah. Thanks Mick, and thanks, Rebecca. I was just going to add that it's important also to think about it from a worker point of view. There's really clear evidence that good work improves health in an individual and their wellbeing too, and it can help prevent social exclusion. So, there's benefits for everyone involved in that kind of circle of work and employment. If you can keep people in good quality work for as long as possible.
Mick Ord (Host):
Is the greater incidence of home working and hybrid working, creating a more inclusive culture, do you think?
The impact of home working has, I think, allowed businesses to see that the flexibility can be done and can be done well, and allow those people who benefit from it to benefit from it. Obviously for some people that's not the approach they want and in some businesses it won't work. But as we've spoke about before in some of the examples, allowing people to work at home can enable them to feel more comfortable in their work and allow them those breaks from social anxiety or interaction they find difficult and can make it a more comfortable environment and I feel like an easy environment for them to work in.
I would absolutely agree with what Moya said, and perhaps add that whilst it's fantastic that some degree of flexibility is now significantly more mainstream than it was, which is great for people that require it, but also, it's much easier to ask. But I would say then again, this is where this guidance and this Talking Toolkit is incredibly important because when you are not physically present, whether it's with your manager or with a group of people you work with, that's when you need to communicate. It's great to be flexible in terms of where people can work from, but it means that you may not have that immediate interaction, which as we know, close-knit groups foster an open dialogue, a great communication. So, you need to, again, ensure that there is this rapport being built, that this communication is being fostered, so that if perhaps that doesn't suit some people, they can say that. So, yeah, I think great to see that flexibility being mainstream, but we also then need to really focus on still having these open, honest communications.
I think Rebecca's absolutely right these toolkits could help you have those water cooler conversations that you might have in an office, but you can do it digitally as well, because if you're not bumping into someone, you can miss those social things that you think, oh, I should ask my employee about something. These toolkits can help facilitate that, even if you are having that conversation at a distance.
Mick Ord (Host):
Well, many, many thanks to Moya Woolley from HSE and the FSB's Rebecca Hyrslova, for joining us today. Some really good support available there, and it's all on the websites.
And if you want to use the HSE Talking Toolkit we've been referring to in the podcast, then all you need to do is go onto the HSE website. That's HSE.gov.uk. and write 'Talking Toolkit disability' in the search box and the link will pop up. You can download the PDF and print it if you wish. We'll leave the links to that and to the Federation of Small Businesses Report: Business Without Barriers in the episode notes, too.
That's all from me, Mick Ord. Until next. Thanks for listening to the podcast and I hope you found it useful. There's plenty of information and support out there whether you are a business owner with a disability or a worker.
Bye for now.