Employed – but Underemployed?

Sign: Aren't putting skills to useAll of us know what unemployment is, and the issue of unemployment for people with disabilities is also a well known fact, one which is talked about often.

People with disabilities frequently miss out on opportunities and are not hired  due to the ‘fear factor’ of disability and the perception that accommodating a person with disability in the workplace will cost the organisation a fortune.   We now know that this is just not the case.

We are slowly getting there with the employment of people with disabilities, and the first step has occurred – we are making noise and talking about it.  More companies are opening their minds that people with disability are more than capable to be part of their teams.

Research has proven that there are so many added benefits of employing people with disabilities.  Sure, there is a reputation out there that people with disability are loyal and more productive than most, and we have some great skills.  We can offer greater adaptability and problem-solving skills. As a result of always having to think about how we can do things differently, we forever need to challenge the status-quo and figure out – “hmm, I can’t do it this way, so I will need to do it that way”.  This translates to the workplace quite well.

Other great benefits are that we provide a different perspective on how an organisation can serve their customers better – having someone to shed the light on what might or might not work with customers with disabilities.  We become an in-house subject matter expert to call upon.

We also seem to stay in a job for longer periods of time because we feel ‘grateful’ that we have a job. To get hired in the first place was such a feat – why on earth would we let it go? And, why would we want to ‘rock the boat’ if we are bored, not challenged or our skills are not being utilized? It is so hard to get through the door to start with, so just shut-up, get the paycheck and plod along ‘merrily’.

Yes, underemployment happens a lot. For those of us who know about the disability sector or maybe even work with a team member with disabilities, would know what we mean when we talk about underemployment. It’s being over-educated, under-paid, and under-worked! Think of it this way, a Doctor working at McDonald’s.

There could be many factors why people with disabilities can be stuck in a rut, and not given the opportunity for promotion.  It might be that an employee with disabilities doesn’t have the confidence or self-esteem to stand up and say – “hey, you aren’t tapping into my skills and allowing me to flourish in your organisation”. It could also be that the Manager is not a true Leader and doesn’t know how, or is ‘scared’ to develop and mentor employees with disabilities to progress their career?

Either way, this is something we should add to the conversation. Speaking from personal experience, I was in this very same scenario.  Despite winning awards, and being a high performer, I stayed on the same pay grade for many years without any prospect in sight of moving up.  I developed my own skills, had conversations with Manager’s and even had mentors inside and outside of the business. But, I was still not able to work at my full capability and was held back from a career perspective. It was the perception of what people with disabilities can and can’t do.

More recently, I saw an Employment Agency and their first comment to me seeing a wheelchair user was ‘You can do Admin work’. This was without seeing my CV or having a conversation about my skills. A presumption that because I am a person with disabilities, that is all I am capable of doing. Limiting me with presumption!

We talk about the ‘fear factor’ a lot, and this usually comes from the Manager as they don’t know how to approach a scenario with persons with disabilities. But let’s look at the employee – there could be many different scenarios that could be inhibiting their career progression. The fear of losing the job they are so ‘grateful’ for could be in jeopardy.

But for me, what it comes down to is communication.  We are adults in an adult working environment. Ask for what you want, tell people what you need and how you feel.  All Managers should ideally be Leaders and thinking about all employees to see if they are utilizing their skills.  Career conversations should not just be happening, they should be acted upon.

If you are an organization that employs people with disabilities, when was the last time you checked to see if you are actually utilizing their skills, and they are satisfied and feel appreciated in their role?

Let’s start the conversation on underemployment!

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