Workplace Wellbeing

How Workplace Accommodations Can Bring Out the Best In People

Here are five ways to create an environment that makes it easy for all employees to get the workplace accommodations they need.

Written by
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Dr. Amy Marschall
Spring Health Provider
Clinically reviewed by
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Two women in the workplace looking at a document on a laptop

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    Do your employees feel empowered to ask for what they need to thrive in their role? 

    What procedures are in place to ensure your people can make adjustments that help them both personally and professionally? 

    What “rules” or expectations exist in your workplace that may be negatively impacting employees? 

    The Center for Disease Control reports that approximately one in four Americans have a disability that might interfere with their ability to work. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that all organizations allow employees with a disability access to reasonable accommodations to do their job.

    Those in leadership roles are responsible for employee wellbeing in the workplace, as they’re the ones with the power to make changes and grant accommodations. 

    But some organizational cultures don’t value flexibility or meeting employee needs.  In these workplaces, it’s preferred that people push through or quietly accept the status quo, even if this interferes with their ability to do their job well.

    If you value a healthy work culture, you want your employees’ needs to be met. This not only fosters retention, but allows everyone to do their best work.

    Here’s how to create an environment that makes it easy for employees to get the workplace accommodations they need—or don’t even have to ask for them because of what’s already in place. 

    Adjusting expectations, to make adjustments

    Much of what is considered “normal” in the workplace comes from arbitrary expectations. Our systems are set up one way, and we continue to accept these standards—even though they don’t always promote productivity or wellbeing for all employees. 

    For example, why are typical working hours still nine to five? If a project doesn’t have to be done at a set, scheduled time, does it matter if they complete the work outside those hours? 

    If a task can be done from home, why do so many companies continue to mandate returning to the office

    Allowing employees to make simple and reasonable adjustments can bring out the best in them. This is true for employees who have a disability and those who simply prefer to work a little bit differently.

    By exploring your values around what productivity and professionalism “ought to” look like, you might find that simple adjustments make your employees happy and produce better work.

    Understanding stigma and risk of discrimination

    Even though employees may actually do better work when they adjust their schedule and environment to meet their needs, many experience pushback and face an uphill battle when they request accommodations. 

    A recent survey revealed that 61% of employees with a disability report facing discrimination at work. This may be unacceptable under the ADA, but protections only help people if they are enforced.

    Because of stigma and risk for discrimination, many employees with a disability might feel uncomfortable or unsafe disclosing this to their employer. And even though the ADA prohibits employers from requiring workers to share their specific diagnosis when seeking disability accommodations, many ask anyway. 

    Again, regulations only matter when they are enforced and followed. 

    Some employees may feel comfortable or even prefer to disclose their disability status or their diagnosis. They might feel like their supervisor can better support them by having this information. 

    Of course, this is just as valid as an employee who does not want to share this information. It should be up to the individual to choose what is right for them, not a mandate from leadership.

    A streamlined process for requesting accommodations

    If your workplace empowers employees to make reasonable adjustments on an as-needed basis, without disclosing disability status, they can create and implement their own accommodations. 

    This also allows employees to improve their mental health and productivity without bureaucracy. Employees feel valued, like their needs matter, and they can focus their energy on doing their job—rather than on jumping through hoop after hoop to get their needs met.

    Of course, not every accommodation is simple to implement. In these cases, the process of requesting and receiving support should be simple and streamlined. 

    Cultivate a healthy workplace culture where people:

    • Feel comfortable asking for support when they need it
    • Know who to turn to when they need an accommodation
    • Receive a response quickly

    Understanding the true purpose of accommodations

    Workplace flexibility and accommodations can help all employees be their best. 

    For example, many traditional workplace expectations are tailored to extrovert personality types, while about half of workers are introverted. An introverted employee might benefit from support that deviates from extroverted expectations.

    Different brains work differently and thrive in various environments. Ask yourself if you want your workplace to look and run based on strict, traditional values, or if you want your employees to be and do their best.

    Sometimes leadership misunderstands the purpose of accommodations. They may view accommodations as “special treatment” or employees asking to have different expectations than their peers. 

    This is not the case! Accommodation requests are your employees communicating to you what they need to do their best work for you.

    With flexible policies, you can create a workplace where your employees’ needs are met without having to formally request accommodations, or where the process of making such a request is streamlined and low-stress. 

    4 steps to creating an accommodating workplace for all employees

    There are simple changes that can ensure accommodations are accessible or even unnecessary for your employees. Take these four steps to foster a healthy workplace culture that improves retention and employee mental health.

    Give employees a say in their schedules

    People are at “peak performance” at different times. Let employees decide when they want to complete projects rather than mandating a traditional 9-5 schedule. 

    If your office needs someone present or clocked in at certain hours, work with your team to figure out how you can support individual needs while maintaining this expectation.

    If tasks are completed on time and meet expectations, does it really matter when your team works on them?

    Give employees control over their work environment

    If your employees come into the office, let them decide what their workspace needs to look and feel like for them to be at their best. For employees who don’t need to do most or any of their jobs in a physical office, let them individually decide if they prefer to work from the office or from home. 

    People know their own needs better than anyone else. If they express that they need lower lighting, a different chair, or to work from home, honor their requests. This can bring out their best work and improve their job satisfaction.

    Regularly ask employees what they need, then follow through

    Due to the power differential between employees and management, you can’t assume that your workers just know they can be open and honest with you about their needs. 

    Make a point of soliciting feedback, and then formulate a plan to meet the needs that are expressed.

    With ongoing attention to employee needs, you can create and maintain a culture where accommodations are natural, expected, and respected by leadership.

    Communicate flexibility

    Some employers don’t realize that certain aspects of their work environment could change without negatively affecting productivity. Similarly, employees who haven’t had a voice at work in the past might not realize they could benefit from an accommodation. 

    By communicating to your teams that they can ask for accommodations (and you will provide them), you can help employees realize what their needs are, and then make sure they’re met.

    Eliminating the need for accommodations

    It is easier than you may think to design a work environment that meets each employees’ individual needs, often without having to ask—and when a request is necessary, to simplify the process of asking for support. 

    When you’re flexible and willing to reassess your assumptions about what a workplace “should” look like, your employees can be more engaged and satisfied. And you can be a leader who brings out the best in your people, both professionally and personally.

    Learn more about how to intentionally create a workplace culture that brings out the best in employees.

    About the Author
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    Dr. Amy Marschall
    Spring Health Provider

    Dr. Amy Marschall is a clinical psychologist licensed in South Dakota, Montana, New York, North Dakota, and Florida. She got her doctorate from the University of Hartford in 2015 and completed her internship at the Psychology Training Consortium, Central Region. She has a full-time clinical private practice, Resiliency Mental Health, where she provides therapy and psychological assessments. She is also a speaker, educator, and author.

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