By abfh; originally posted on the blog Whose Planet Is It Anyway?
In Bev’s post Autism at work, she points out that there are many accommodations that would help autistic employees to be more comfortable in the workplace, at no cost or minimal cost to the employer. Bev is quite right about that, but I’ll take it even farther: Employers can realize a significant financial gain when they are willing to be flexible in managing a diverse population of workers.
When an adjustment to the workplace environment makes an employee more productive, that equation includes not just the cost (if any) of the changes that are made, but also the value of the added productivity. Employers tend to assume that anything described as a “disability accommodation” is an expense that allows a less able worker to maintain an average level of performance (and, by implication, that it would be more cost-effective to avoid hiring people with disabilities, to the extent that a company can get away with it). But in reality, an employee who is working in an unfavorable environment may already be performing at an average level by exerting a great deal of effort to overcome unnecessary obstacles. When such an employee can work in an environment better suited to his or her needs, all of that stress and wasted effort goes away. In addition to being happier and more relaxed at work, the employee also has more physical and mental energy, which may translate into an above-average level of performance.
To put it another way, when employers make accommodations for disabilities and other personal circumstances of their workers, it’s not just an expense—it’s an investment that can generate a valuable return, in terms of greater productivity and retention of satisfied workers. In recent years, some employers have discovered that it is in their best interest to allow flexible schedules, telecommuting, and other accommodations as a way of keeping mothers with young children in the workforce. If employers also made efforts to provide flexible and comfortable working environments for their autistic employees, they would gain the same advantages of improving their talent pool and increasing productivity.
Managers seriously need to get over their antiquated Industrial Age mindset of expecting all their workers to be interchangeable serfs in a standardized environment. In today’s global economy, there’s always a generic serf to be found more cheaply somewhere else. Our complacent Western butts are going to get kicked all over the planet by China, India, etc., if we don’t learn how to use the talent in our workforce to greater advantage. We need a total paradigm shift when it comes to workplace accommodations. Instead of making the least effort necessary to avoid a disability discrimination lawsuit, our companies ought to be customizing the work environments of all employees to a much greater degree, so that each worker can be maximally productive in an individual niche designed to take full advantage of his or her particular set of interests and abilities.