More than two-in-three (67%) UK workers with invisible disabilities feel it’s left up to them to seek support and reasonable adjustments at work, according to a new report from INvolve.
Over half (58%) feel that invisible disabilities aren’t prioritised in the same way other conditions are, while 37% haven’t disclosed their disability due to fear of discrimination and a lack of support. Out of the respondents, half cited the difficulty of securing adequate support as the main reason they feel it’s not worth seeking it out.
As businesses are put under more economic pressure, most have been forced to withdraw funds from employee support, 38% of workers said budget cuts meant they aren’t getting the support they need.
“Businesses must do better to ensure that employees have reasonable adjustments in place and the right infrastructure to enable them to fulfill their job roles and progress within their careers,” says Suki Sandhu OBE, founder, and CEO of INvolve, a diversity and inclusion consultancy. “The workplace must be accessible for everyone, and it is saddening and infuriating that so many employees across the globe are unable to achieve their career potential due to serious lapses in a business’s ability to support them.”
Invisible disabilities can be mental, physical, or neurological, and can significantly impact an employee’s ability to work. Almost a quarter of respondents (24%) say they are unable to cope with their workload, and 28% say they’re unable to concentrate properly because of their disability.
Employment is low amongst disabled
Dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism, ADHD, mental health conditions, and chronic pain are all common examples of hidden disabilities, and because they might not be obvious, they are often misunderstood by colleagues and employers.
Because of the barriers having a disability might introduce into the lives of these workers, employers and co-workers can sometimes assume they are incompetent, lazy, or incapable of doing their job in some way.
This can have difficult ramifications for those with a disability, and many respondents say that aside from their job role, their disability has a negative impact on their wider experience at work – 32% say their disability contributes to stress at work, 20% say they feel isolated, 17% say it contributes to bad relationships at work, and 19% say their disability makes them want to leave their job.
These figures are particularly concerning considering that employment amongst disabled people in the UK is at an all-time low, highlighting a systemic problem in the way employers approach supporting these workers. With the cost-of-living crisis putting an even tighter grip on funding for support, it’s that much more important for HR professionals to acknowledge the unspoken struggles involved with having an invisible disability.
It’s also important to recognise that because of the taboos and judgement around disabilities, many ‘sufferers’ don’t disclose their disability to their employer, and many workers might not even know they have a disability themselves. Therefore, these employees aren’t receiving the support they need at work.
Reena Parmar, senior knowledge lawyer at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP, says it’s up to those at a senior level to speak openly about invisible disabilities they might be experiencing, which will help to break the stigma around it. She says: “As a South Asian woman from a lower socio-economic background with non-visible disabilities, I find it challenging that I can’t see others in my profession, particularly those in positions of seniority, that I identify with. Visible representation matters. If you can see it, you believe that you can be it.
“We need role models across all levels of seniority to talk openly about disability to break down some of the negative perceptions that exist. Open dialogue can break down stigma and vulnerable, and authentic storytelling has a tremendous impact. I hope that I can be that role model for those that follow in my footsteps.”