While preparing a lecture for my work at the university on “diverse identities at work,” I was reminded of the amount of discrimination, I have heard about within the workplace which is directed toward employees and applicants who live with disabilities, both physical and mental. I decided that it might be important to understand both the challenges and the opportunities of hiring and working with those who suffer.
Some of the, seemingly, obvious workplace challenges for employers who employ disabled persons might include co-worker discrimination, diminished productivity, slower speed, increased need for time off work to attend to medical needs, drugs in the workplace, elevated levels of workplace conflict, decreased ability to understand simple concepts, the cost of changes to infrastructure and technology to accommodate the worker, and more. While these seem like the obvious issues, the research shows that most, if not all, of these challenges are not representative of the majority of those workers who suffer, and for most, a few changes or accommodations actually result in disabled workers being as productive as those who do not suffer, usually more productive. As a matter-of-fact, employers who ensure that disabled employees are shown respect as employees often report that these employees are the most loyal and hardest working employees in the shop.
So what are some of the opportunities that employers have when having employees who are physically or mentally disabled? According to Raisa Arvinen-Muondo and Stephen Perkins (2013), employers who embrace a diverse workplace experience higher rates of retention, create a more expansive set of diverse ideas and innovative thinking, create more useful products and services, make better decisions, have higher retention rates, create a better organizational reputation, and have fewer problems with change. If we consider diversity as more than race, and expand to include people with physical and mental disabilities, then organizations which embrace diversity are often valued as building a foundation for social justice.
Think about what made Walmart stand out in the late 1900’s: The Walmart greeter was one of the only openly visible disabled and/or elderly employees in the United States, and as a community, we appreciated the fact that Walmart was willing to give the disabled this opportunity to find honest, decent work. This may have been a strategic effort to rebuild the reputation for Walmart and show the world that Walmart was a socially just company. For many, this was the end result. Now that Walmart has announced that they will be increasing the workforce pay, this idea means even more. Yes, there are other example, and many are better, but Walmart’s example was put on display for everyone to see, so it is also the easiest to understand for the non-researching employee or employer.
I think one of the most important things to consider is this: In the workplace, like anywhere else in life, mental and emotional disabilities can be the most invisible. At any given time, 1 of every 4-5 people suffers from a mental health problem which is strong enough to be diagnosed as mental illness (even if not actually diagnosed). It might be you or any of those who work with or for you. We may not even realize it. Why not just embrace the differences, skill sets, knowledge, and experiences of everyone. Why not use those who suffer to gain insight about others, learn about what could help them or your customers who suffer,, and to become a better person?
Working with, instead of against, disabled persons adds to the valuable diversity and knowledge pool within the workplace. We can chose to be better people, to help others, to use our differences to advance all of us, and to retain the best, most loyal employees out there. Challenge everyone, regardless of their ability, their race, their age, their knowledge, their experience, their ethnicity, their gender, their sexual preference… Make work about work, and nothing more. I would guess that we might all find benefits in embracing diversity in every way.
So, it’s a new year. Many people talk about making their resolutions, but very few actually take action, and those that do take action usually stop within a short amount of time? Why is that? Are we too busy? Do we forget? Are we making goals/resolutions that are not realistic or sustainable? Are we resolving to do things that hurt too much or cause us to neglect something or someone else?
On the other hand, what if we stopped making resolutions which do not meet the S.M.A.R.T.-types of goals and objectives, which cause us to harm or neglect, and which are harmful or unattainable? Can we actually make a resolution which we can feel good about for a long period of time? I think we all can.
I teach my Project Management students about making goals and S.M.A.R.T. objectives. Applying these concepts to making New Years Resolutions just might help us to make resolutions which we can keep and which help us to feel better about our abilities. In order to understand this, we need to understand what goals and objectives are and how to make them S.M.A.R.T.
Simply, “goals” are broad, generalized end results which a person would like to see occur, and objectives break goals into observable, measurable segments. For example, a goal might be to lose weight or to fit into a suit which is 3 sizes smaller than the one you currently fit into. An associated objective might anchor the goal in time or amount of progress or actions. For example, some weightloss objectives might look like this: I will walk, each day, for an hour, eat smaller portion sizes, and join a weight loss program… all in an effort to reach my goal.
Making objectives for our goals breaks the goals into pieces which seem (and can be) something we can see progress in. Making them S.M.A.R.T. objectives gives us a sense that they can be accomplished, resulting in good feelings about ourselves. So what makes them S.M.A.R.T.?
S.M.A.R.T. is an acronym which makes remembering what we need in our objectives to make those objectives more valuable to us.
The “S” stands for “specific.” Making our objectives detailed and specific tells us exactly what needs to be done. How do we know if we actually accomplished an objective or met a benchmark plateau?
The “M” stands for “measurable.” We can measure our objectives in time, in amount, and in other formats. This can help us make a timeline or a set of benchmarks which seem like something we can accomplish over time.
The “A” stands for “attainable.” One of the main reasons why people stop trying to work toward their goals is because they can’t see an end or don’t think they can actually get to the goal, so there is no reason to continue to try. Making our objectives attainable can help us make waypoints, mini-goals, or sub-goals which can be accomplished and celebrated on the way to attaining th main goal.
The “R” stands for “relevant” or “realistic,” depending upon the particular objective and the goal. If the objective is relevant, it makes sense as part of the process toward reaching the goal and the particular objective. The objective must also be realistic, something which can be done or that one can obtain the tools needed.
The “T” stands for “time-bound.” Anchoring your objectives in time helps to keep one on track and avoid allowing everyday things to get too much in the way of reaching your goals. You can make a timeline, schedule, or just answer the question, “What can I do, each day/week/month, to move toward accomplishment of this objective?
An example of S.M.A.R.T objectives as part of the goal of fitting into a smaller suit might look like this:
- Exercise, each morning, for 30 minutes
- Eat portion sizes which are half those which I have been eating, three times per day
- strive to lose 5 pounds per month, each month for 6 months
When I think about losing 60 pounds, it seems like it is unattainable, but when I look at it as 5 pounds per month, I can see something which might be easier than it looks. I also give myself a place to celebrate the small wins, which will help me to stick with the original goal, a monthly 5-lb. sub-goal.
Now, let’s apply this idea to a New Years Resolution. A resolution is nothing more than a goal. My resolution for 2019 might be: “I will help as many people as I can learn something which can make their lives a little better.” That is pretty vague and doesn’t really give me much direction, does it? In order to make this resolution realistic, I will create a few S.M.A.R.T. objectives to help me reach my resolution.
With my knowledge and skill set, I can reach my goal by doing the following:
- Train and certify an average of 15 people per month in Mental Health First Aid and YOUTH Mental Health First Aid
- Provide my enrolled OLS students with communication and business skills (dependent upon the course) which they can use in the workplace by the end of each semester
- Teach at least two courses during 2019 in Traumatic Brain Injury for families of the injured
Are you planning a New Years Resolution? Maybe you can re-write the resolution in a way which will make it seem attainable and valuable to both you and those you want to affect. Perhaps you can break your resolution down into S.M.A.R.T. objectives which will help you stick with it and evolve your 2019 into something more valuable to you.