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The Disability Mindset: How Accommodations Can Provide Support

In a recent post, I wrote about the “disability mindset” and how it can impact the workforce. The disability mindset happens when an ill or injured employee becomes focused on his or her disabilities instead of capabilities, which can prevent them from remaining in or rejoining the workforce. As discussed in that post, although we’ve come a long way culturally in being aware and accepting, employees with behavioral health conditions still struggle in the workplace.

Now that we better understand this mindset, let’s dive into how we can help.

How Employers Can Help With Accommodations

Accommodations are key to helping create an environment that supports employees in overcoming their disability mindset, and encourages a stay at work or return to work.

For perspective, let’s look at a comparative example of how this can play out in the workplace. It would be surprising for an employee with cancer to be denied the time to attend their chemo and radiation appointments. However, an employee with a behavioral health diagnosis may be denied the same time to attend to their care during work hours (e.g., attend psychiatric appointments or substance abuse recovery meetings). The same biases may also occur when providing accommodations (e.g., modified work schedules or a temporary job). Unfortunately, this may be due to employers being less sympathetic with behavioral health diagnoses because of the cultural perception that an employee just needs to “suck it up” and work through their condition.

With any condition, whether physical or mental, accommodations are incredibly helpful for employees. In addition, employers may be required to provide reasonable accommodations in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), which protects individuals with disabilities so they are afforded equal employment opportunities. It’s important to be aware that failing to accommodate an employee may not just result in the loss of a qualified employee, it also could result in legal action.

Successful accommodations for an employee with a behavioral health condition are often straightforward in nature and can be incredibly helpful in mitigating the employee’s condition. Here are a few examples:

  • Flexibility with appointments allows employees to attend treatment through an employee assistance program (EAP), see their doctor or participate in a substance abuse recovery program.
  • Many behavioral health conditions disrupt an employee’s natural sleep/wake cycles. A flexible schedule can allow for increased productivity and help reduce errors or accidents.
  • Employees with depression or anxiety often struggle with focus and attention to detail. Here, an employer can break down tasks into smaller actions, provide coaching or reviews of work, or move the employee’s workstation to a quiet place that allows them to better focus.

Accommodations are important, but they’re only as helpful as HR policies allow them to be. If an employer’s policies limit or impede an employee’s ability to return to work or stay at work, the accommodations provided may not be able to help. Policies that require employees to be 100 percent recovered before they can return to work, for instance, create the perception that an employer isn’t supportive of their recovery and that an employee with a mental health condition is damaged.

With the proper mindset, accommodations and HR policies, employees can feel supported by their employer and receive the aid needed for their return-to-work or stay-at-work situation. In my next post, we’ll explore how you can create a culture of acceptance and support, further helping your employees.


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