How can an organisation’s culture and practices inspire commitment among employees with disabilities?

Disabilities are estimated to affect a sizeable portion of the population (1 in 5 people according to the US Census Bureau, 2012) and yet workplaces continue to manifest discriminatory practices. These arise both in terms of access to employment as well as social integration during employment.

Such negative experiences are likely to erode employee commitment and thus influence employee performance, well-being, and turnover intentions (Cooper-Hawkim & Viswesvaran, 2005).

While the commitment of other minority groups (e.g., women and older workers) has been studied extensively, there is a paucity of research focusing on those with disabilities. Professors Wittmer (University of Toledo) and Lim (Carroll University) address this gap by examining how commitment amongst employees with disabilities may be built through organisational culture and practices.

The researchers found that pro-disability culture, an environment that supports accessibility, catalyses a chain of positive effects. Firstly, it prompts the application of assistive technologies; in turn this enhances flexible working arrangements. Collectively, these conditions elevate commitment to the organisation.

Aim

The aim was to explore how culture and practices can enhance the organisational commitment of employees with disabilities by answering the following research questions:

  1. How does pro-disability culture influence organisational commitment?
  2. How do technology and flexibility practices influence organisational commitment?
  3. How does pro-disability culture work in combination with technology and flexibility practices to influence organisational commitment?
Method

An online survey was administered to 86 HR Directors and Managers across multiple industries (e.g., healthcare, manufacturing, auto etc.). These leaders were chosen to participate because of their unique access to objective information and data regarding the employment of people with disabilities in their organization. The survey evaluated:

  • Pro-disability culture. Sample item: “Our organization has a written policy regarding hiring people with disabilities.”
  • Organizational commitment. Sample item: “People with disabilities in our organisation are committed to our organization.”
  • Pro-disability technology. Sample item: “Our organisation considers the needs and concerns of employees with disabilities in our technological planning.”
  • Flexible work arrangements. Sample item: “Our organization offers telecommuting (working remotely) to employees with disabilities.”
Findings

Pro-disability culture alone did not have a significant effect on organisational commitment. Instead, pro-disability culture triggered a cascade of positive effects for employees with disabilities. Organisations with pro-disability culture were found to have greater usage of assistive technologies (β= .66), which, in turn, amplified the application of flexible work arrangements (β= .85). Critically, it was the combination of these conditions that ultimately enhanced commitment to the organization (β= .33).

Implications

The results indicate that in isolation, neither pro-disability culture nor technology/flexibility practices are sufficient to drive commitment. Rather, they need to be developed concurrently.

Many organisations implement technology and flexibility policies predominantly out of legal compliance, without due consideration as to whether the environment is conducive to success. To maximise return on investments into technology and flexibility, it is crucial to first foster a pro-disability culture through:

  • Leadership initiatives (e.g., the promotion of managers who have undertaken disability awareness training and the education of managers regarding disability policies).

Making technology accessible is often less challenging and expensive than it appears (Bruyére et al., 2003). Some cost-effective additions include:

  • Work stations that allow wheelchairs to fit
  • Screen magnifiers
  • Special computer inputs for mice
  • Braille readers and keyboards
  • Voice-recognition software.

Likewise, flexibility initiatives are relatively inexpensive and allow people with disabilities to better attend to personal and medical needs. Strategies include:

  • Flex-time, absence autonomy
  • Compressed work weeks, reduced schedules
  • Flexible holidays, extra vacation days
  • Video-conferencing to enable working from home
Conclusion

A disability-supportive culture, maximises the effectiveness of assistive technology and flexibility practices. Collectively, such endeavours inspire commitment among those with disabilities whilst supporting a broader business imperative to cater to the unique needs of an increasingly diverse workforce.

For more information, contact Andrea Espedido

To read the full article, see Wittmer, J. L. S., & Lin, C. (2017). Valuing employees with disabilities: A chain effect of pro-disability climate on organizational commitment. Disability Studies Quarterly, 37(3).

References

Bruyere, S. M. D., Erickson, W., & Schramm, J. (2003). Disability in a technology-driven workplace. Employment and Disability Institute Collection, 1211.

Cooper-Hakim, A., & Viswesvaran, C. (2005). The construct of work commitment: Testing an integrative framework. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 241-259.


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