Duty to Accommodate. These 3 words can bring about fear in even seasoned human resource professionals. And why wouldn’t you be scared of it? When you typically think of accommodation, extra costs, extra effort and great difficulty and complexity probably come to mind. Human Resources is a field where there is not always a right and wrong way of doing things, and where professionals have to frequently navigate the grey area. Accommodation will always be “grey” in nature and because of that, it has truly become the dreaded ‘A’ word in the HR field. Think about it. Those 3 words “duty to accommodate” make it sound forced, obligatory and negative. It is something that companies have to do and are legislated to do, instead of wanting to do.
But why wouldn’t we want to accommodate? It is a well-known fact that every organization’s greatest resource is their employees. When you have a more diverse culture and it is one where employees are supported and embraced, a stronger team usually results. Yes, these dynamic teams can be harder to manage, but they are more innovative, creative and they generally produce stronger ideas, giving your organization a competitive edge. These employees will also feel a strong sense of loyalty, knowing that their employer stuck by them when they needed support. When you can create an environment where accommodation is second nature and something your managers do without even thinking about it, this can be a huge advantage for your organization to leverage as part of your employer value proposition.
Outside of writing policies that adhere to legislated requirements and fulfilling your obligatory “duty”, what is most important as an HR professional is to inspire in your fellow HR teammates, managers and executive teams the desire to accommodate, therefore solidifying accommodation as part of your organizational culture. When it becomes top of mind for management, they instantly become more proactive and much less reactionary. When they are actually approached with an employee situation where they must accommodate, they will likely already have ideas around how to do it, or they may have even taken steps to mitigate the issue before it has become a full blown problem.
When accommodation is built into your culture and is second nature for your managers and executives, the task of accommodating becomes much less of a chore and more of a conscious choice. Instead of continuing to label it as a “duty” within your organization, change the language that you are using. It no longer is an obligation, but a pleasure to accommodate. When you remove the negative connotation, you are able to ask your managers to fully embrace the concept and keep it top of mind in order to be part of your organization’s value proposition, enabling you to better retain current employees and even recruit future employees. Accommodation isn’t something that you have to do, it is something that you have the opportunity to do! There are always opportunities for your organization to improve so in coming up with creative and simple accommodations, you may find accommodation efforts reach much further outside of the specific employee you are working with, positively affecting other employees within your organization.
Organizations and HR professionals should be working towards creating a culture where there are no barriers for your employees. It should be very visible and apparent that your organization is easily accessible for all people and that you are fostering a diversified team. When accommodation becomes ingrained into your organizational culture and is something that your management team does without even having to think about, then it becomes part of your employment brand. Doesn’t every organization want to be known for supporting its employees and enabling an understanding workplace? Organizations that are known for being open, flexible and approachable typically have very strong external employment brands. These kinds of companies have candidates banging on their doors to come and work for them. If you can successfully adopt accommodation within your organizational culture, then this will add to your employer value proposition and will also make your organization an employer of choice.
In terms of retention, there are a number of small initiatives that an organization can take to accommodate current employees. Although at the onset it may seem challenging, accommodation doesn’t have to be as hard as it initially sounds. It can take many forms, from simple ergonomics, to accessibility, to special unpaid leaves, but ultimately it exists to support and encourage diversity within the workplace. For instance, take the aging of Canada’s workforce. No one knows exactly what that is going to mean for our workforce, but there is a very large predicted gap in skilled labour that will likely result when baby boomers begin to retire all at once. Perhaps you have an employee within your organization who is nearing their retirement age, but wants to continue working. With aging employees, a simple and straightforward way to accommodate would be to offer a reduced work week. Your employee can continue working as they wish and you retain the large wealth of human capital that the employee holds about your organization, as well as the technical expertise that they have within their field of specialization.
While baby boomers are beginning to retire, there are a significant number of millennials on the other side who are just entering the workforce and beginning their careers. Individuals from this age group tend to be looking for challenging opportunities that will allow them to develop and grow their professional scope, but more and more millennials are seeking that ever important work/life balance. Millennials generally value the life experiences they are gaining away from the workplace equally as much as their professional experience they gain from actually working. What this can sometimes mean is a strong desire to travel for extended periods of time, outside of the traditional two or three weeks of vacation that is traditionally granted to new employees who are just at the initial stages of their professional careers. I have seen many examples of millennial wishing to take extended, unpaid leaves in the workplace, and typically have seen employers forcing a resignation, because they will not provide the extra time off. However, an easy way to accommodate this type of situation is to offer special unpaid leaves for a period of up to two to three months for employees wishing to travel. This benefits both sides, as the employees will return refreshed, fulfilled and grateful to their employer for allowing them the opportunity to experience new things and return with a job to come back to. Your organization will retain the valuable human capital and potential of your millennial employee and likely see an increase of loyalty among your staff members.
Outside of specific age groups or career tracks, the number one thing that I hear employees or potential employees asking for is support, both from their organization and their managers. They want to know that someone has their back in tricky situations and they also want the ability to approach their supervisors when they require support. But employees don’t want to just feel supported when they’re at their best. Everyone has a bad day every now and then, and with the pressures of everyday life only increasing, it is becoming more and more common to expect your long term employees to experience a down period within their personal lives or health at least one point over the course of their career. It is simply not realistic to believe that your employees aren’t going to experience any sort of strife at any time throughout the course of their employment, affecting their workplace performance. Depression and mental health issues are only just beginning to become a socially accepted disease to identify with and deal with with new products such as cannabidiol. You can buy cannabidiol for sale near me, and because of that, we are seeing an increase in the number of people treating these conditions themselves. As our country’s population ages, so does the number of active workers caring for a parent at home and many employees have children at home. All of these personal elements are going to bring about stress in your employees’ lives and create potential opportunities for your organization to step in and make a positive impact through accommodation.
At the end of the day, accommodation is what you make it. When you look at it as your “duty”, it will likely be a chore that everyone within your organization dreads. However, when viewed as an opportunity and as an embedded element of your organizational culture, where it is top of mind for managers and all employees, accommodation becomes a positive action that strengthens your team, employment brand within the community and increases your organization’s value proposition. With a strong value proposition and external brand resulting from successfully adopting and accepting accommodation, organizations will be in good shape to retain and recruit top talent.
This article was originally featured in the HRIA HUMAN Capital Magazine, Winter 2016 edition. Check it out for more great articles on Disability Management.