A holistic approach to managing employees with disabilities in the NHS

Ruth Cooper-Dixon

12 / 5 / 2015 1.01pm

Ruth Cooper Dickson is a director at Equal Approach - they support organisations to attract, recruit, retain, recognise and promote diverse talent, through a range of inclusive recruitment and diversity consultancy and training services.

The diversity life-cycle can be used as a tool to showcase how NHS organisations can take a holistic approach to managing employees’ disabilities throughout their journey with the organisation.



The NHS has a responsibility for attracting individuals to the healthcare profession, and for individuals with a disability, the reputation and perception of how the NHS treats disabled employees could be a key factor in decisions regarding a career in healthcare. It is therefore essential that the NHS collectively portrays an employer brand which champions disability.


The fact that the NHS’s disabled employees are 60 per cent more likely to be a victim of harassment and bullying from their manager, could be partly attributed to a lack of disability related education and training. Equal Approach recommends that all employees undertake disability awareness and confidence training, and managers receive training on how to manage employees with disabilities.


Organisations should showcase how they support their disabled employees in order to establish themselves as an employer of choice for disabled people, which in turn will improve the attraction of candidates with disabilities, and remove the fear for both candidates and employees to request adjustments.

Equal approach

Organisations should ensure that their own recruitment process, and that of any agencies they use, are inclusive. Equal Approach supports organisations to recruit diverse workforces through operating an inclusive recruitment process, and we also support organisations to make their processes inclusive through training and consultancy services. There are numerous aspects involved in making a recruitment process inclusive, but some key areas include making reasonable adjustments and removing unconscious biases. 

During employment 

Whilst the early stages of the diversity lifecycle are fundamental to get right, organisations should take a holistic approach to proactively support their employees with disabilities throughout their entire journey with the organisation.

There are a number of reasons why organisations should take a holistic approach, including:

  • disabilities can change over time, as can employees’ needs
  • employees may have developed a disability whilst in employment
  • employees may not have initially disclosed a disability, but may wish to at a later date.

Two key areas of concern for employers regarding the employment of disabled employees being managing disability related absence and performance management. The key worry for employers in these areas are the fear of getting it wrong and the potential repercussions. Managing disability related absence is both sensitive and potentially damaging for employers, but as a general rule, disability related absences should be treated separately to other types of absences. With performance management, Equal Approach recommends that organisations (where possible) manage the performance of employees with disabilities in the same way as non-disabled employees, however we recognise there will some circumstances where exceptions should be made, which should be dealt with on a case by case basis.


There is a lack of research available surrounding the retention of disabled employees, but broad statistics suggest that employees with disabilities have higher retention rates than non-disabled employees (United Nations, 2007). Equal Approach is part of the Business Disability Forum’s Disability Retention Steering Group, which aims to build a national picture of how widespread good practices associated with retaining and developing disabled employees are, with the findings due to be released in summer to autumn 2015.


According to Disability Rights UK, employees with disabilities are frequently overlooked for promotion. An area of best practice in this area is to ensure that promotion opportunities are free from discrimination, and we recommend conducting inclusive assessment and development events, to provide a level playing field for candidates to showcase their skills. Equal Approach run these types of events, and we’ve developed a unique 6 six point framework for attendees to request adjustments to ensure that they can perform at their best.



Whilst a certain level of employee turnover is healthy, to lose key groups of talent particularly if there are any trends around characteristics, such as disability, can have a damaging impact upon your organisation, and understanding the reasons behind employee turnover can identify key issues within your organisation. Equal Approach recommends conducting exit interviews to identify underlying causes for leaving, and in our work with clients, we have identified a number of issues surrounding the management of disabled employees which may have otherwise gone unnoticed.

In summary, by taking a holistic approach to managing disabled employees within your organisation, you can improve each element of the diversity lifecycle. Whilst we present the diversity lifecyle as a process from an employee perspective, from an employer perspective the lifecycle can be seen as a matrix, with each element having a direct impact on a number of others. An example of this is that by taking steps to improve the retention of employees with disabilities, this could improve your organisation’s reputation and recruitment.

Thank you for reading,


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