The Office: Inclusion, Empowerment, and Belonging

Looking down into a large open plan office with desks and partitionsMany people spend a great deal of their week in the workplace. It is a micro community where people share experiences and develop connections. The birthday cake is one way to encourage meaningful social connections. But are all workers feeling like they belong in the office? Inclusion, empowerment and belonging are important factors for a productive workforce.

An article in Sourceable asks us to think about the physical design of offices as well as workplace practices. Linh Pham begins the discussion with her own experience of coming to Australia with her family as a refugee. She reminds us that concepts of diversity and inclusion are relatively new. But they are no longer “nice-to-have” – they are “must-have”.

New parents are discussed in terms of childcare facilities. One in five couple families with small children have both parents working full time. Thoughtful office design makes the workplace more welcoming for people with various disabilities.

Pham suggests that programs to reduce inequality are essential. But the commitment to inclusion can go beyond the office to involvement in activities such as International Women’s Day. Nicely put together drawing on all marginalised groups and statistics.

The title of the article is Building empowerment and inclusiveness

 

Mental wellness in the workplace

Aerial view of rows of desks in a public library and people sitting at desks.Sitting down for long periods in the workplace could be bad for your mental health. Perhaps that’s one reason working from home is popular – at least some of the time. Putting on the washing, clearing the dishes, or seeing to the dog in between workplace tasks might be the short breaks we need. We need to take mental wellness in the workplace more seriously.

Sitting for prolonged periods is just one factor discussed in an article on the Wellbeing website. There’s some evidence that breaking up excessive sitting with light activity is good for mental wellness. The average employed adult sits for more than nine hours a day. Solutions include dynamic workstations and encouraging standing during meetings. However, some strategies might be more suited to some than others. While standing can relieve back ache, standing for too long can aggravate it. So all workplace policies need to have worker input and be flexible. 

Job autonomy is another factor and may improve the mental health of younger workers. Evidence from the literature shows that improvements in job autonomy can have a positive impact on anxiety and depression.  They could be given the opportunity to craft how their job is done.

In the second article in the series, flexible working policies can help reduce work-home conflict. This conflict can be a major source of depression and anxiety. Flexible working policies may include working from home, flexible working hours, job sharing or a compressed working week.

Diversity and Inclusion or Belonging and Dignity?

A crowd of lots of different coloured heads.Are Equity, Inclusion and recognition of Diversity the right words to use? Have they just become jargon for human resource policies and not much changes?  An article in the World Economic Forum newsletter says Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have failed. Belonging, Dignity and Justice are proposed instead. The reasons are explained.

      • The existing diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives only expose discriminatory attitudes and do nothing to change things
      • These programs are still based in white dominant culture
      • Belonging, dignity and justice are alternative values that are about the experiences of marginalised people

Belonging is about feeling welcome, dignity is about be a person, and justice is about restoring and repairing individuals.

Although the article is by a practitioner in this space, the information in the article is useful for any organisation wanting to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace. In essence, it is about embedding the principles in all policies and practices both inside and outside the organisation. 

We are reminded that the work done today on diversity and inclusion creates a legacy for future generations. The title of the article is, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion have failed. How about Belonging, Dignity and Justice instead?

 

Access Consultants’ Magazine: Focus on Worplaces

Front cove of the magazine.The Association of Consultants in Access Australia (ACAA) latest magazine has a focus on workplaces. Office fit-outs, workstations, emergency evacuation, working from home and the virtual world are all covered. Some content includes reference to Standards and is technical in nature.

Mary-Ann Jackson and Saumya Kaushik discuss issues from the perspective of COVID-19 and working from home. Eric Martin gives technical detail on office fit-outs. Inclusive and accessible online events and meetings are covered by Art Phonsawat.

Access Insight is available to view on the issue platform or you can download a pdf version. 

Off to work we go. Or do we?

A man holding a boarding pass in his hand along with a bag. You can see the airport in the background.Travelling to work is one thing. Travelling for work is another.  A recent study of Australian university staff who travel for work revealed common difficulties. All participants reported that their disability, whether declared or not, affected their ability to undertake work-based travel. Some of their necessary compromises involved extra cost at their own expense. 

There are four things that make travelling for work difficult for people with disability. They are the way the current system is designed, stigma and victimisation, self reliance and asking for help. And of course, double the effort that anyone else takes for an event-free journey. These factors also apply to the tourism sector. That’s because academics who frequently travel for work might extend their stay for a short vacation. They might take their family too.

The university travel booking service on campus often asked participants to seek additional information themselves. This was not seen as part of the service. One participant found it easier to bypass the system and do their own bookings even though they had to foot the bill. Potentially, the system isn’t smooth sailing for others either.

Another participant was told by a supervisor they couldn’t be an academic if it meant travelling overseas. Booking travel also meant revealing a previously hidden disability. This is a tricky area. Other articles have revealed the reticence to declare a disability for fear of discrimination and disbelief

The article, Negotiating work-based travel for people with disabilities, has some recommendations. They are applicable for workplaces and tourism operators alike.  You will need institutional access for a free read or contact the authors at The University of Queensland.

Abstract: In an ideal world, inclusive travel services would value each person, support full participation and seek to embrace the similarities, as well as the differences, to be found in society. Anecdotally at least, it seems the unspoken truth for many individuals with a disability is that efforts to engage in any form of travel are often thwarted by poor service provision, systemic bias and discrimination. Using an inductive line of inquiry, this Australian study sought to detail how staff with a disability in the higher education sector negotiated their work-related travel responsibilities. Findings revealed that many felt compromised by current systems and practices with many required to go ‘above and beyond’ that expected of their work colleagues. The results of the research project serve to inform employers about the often unvoiced challenges employees with disabilities face when meeting work-based travel expectations. The findings also contribute directly to the transformative service research agenda by offering clear insight into how the travel and hospitality industry might be more inclusive of employees travelling for work-based purposes to the benefit of all parties.

Can the construction industry be inclusive?

Two construction men sitting at a table look at a complex engineering diagram.There’s an assumption that you can’t be a construction worker if you have a disability. So it’s no use recruiting them. Yet this industry has its fair share of permanently injured workers. Many access consultants also have a disability, so the assumption doesn’t hold.

At last someone has joined the dots in The Fifth Estate article, Yes, wheelchair users can work in construction. Working in construction is not all about climbing ladders and working in confined spaces, says Jonathan Fritsch. The article is about seeing the opportunities for people with disability. The construction industry employs over one million people. There are many jobs that don’t require ladders and heavy lifting. And not every role is onsite. But like most recruiting companies, they place people with disability at the bottom of the employability scale. 

Employing people with disability within the industry should now be an imperative. The NDIS has brought the lack of accessible housing and public buildings to the fore. Including people with disabilities of all types seems to be a no-brainer now.

The full title of the article by Jonathan Fritsch is, Yes, wheelchair users can work in construction. Let’s see this as an opportunity.  

 

Discrimination, Inclusion and Work

A man with grey hair is walking on grass and using a powered grass whipper snipper.Participation of older people in the workforce is the topic of ongoing policy debate. Working longer seems a simple answer to population ageing. However, stories abound about employers discriminating against people over the age of 50 years. But is this the only group to face workplace discrimination and exclusion?

Rethinking Advocacy on Ageing and Work challenges the notion that only older people experience discrimination in the workplace. Philip Taylor highlights the policy contradictions about work across the age spectrum. He asks whether working longer is a reasonable proposition for both employees and employers. He also critiques the Human Rights Commission’s Willing to Work report as too narrowly focused. After all, ageism doesn’t just apply to older Australians. A longer version of this paper was published by Per Capita. 

Taylor’s paper is one from a set of conference papers focused on discrimination and employment. They include: 

From jobless to job ready outlines a collaborative model of preparing people for work. Case studies illustrate that tailored education programs and collaborating with local industries achieves productive outcomes. This is especially important where poverty is a factor.

Breaking Through Barriers to Assist Young People who are Blind or have Low vision has micro case studies to illustrate Vision Australia’s project. It gives an overview of how employment barriers were overcome so that participants achieved their goals.

Enhancing Inclusivity at Work Through Mindfulness takes the discussion beyond gender, culture, age or sexual preference. It asks us to think about the every day judgements we make about other people. It’s these judgements that make true inclusion a huge challenge.

 

Returning to work with universal design

A modern office with lots of space and workstations by windows.Returning to work post-pandemic might be a bit scary. A useful article addressing the psycho-social issues discusses universal design as a wellbeing solution. That is, to place equal weight on the wellbeing of all employees.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, Bonnie Sanborn argues that universal design principles increase employees’ perception of being valued at work. For example, adjustable workstations and social spaces with easy access for all employees. Being able to freely express concerns and ideas without fear of reprisals gives a sense of psychological safety.

Suggestions include creating layouts where all employees have equal access to the best views. This might mean allocating this space as a common area. A blanket standard for ergonomic features on furnishing might sound equal but doesn’t cater for differing needs. Giving people the right tools and equipment for the job shows the boss understands the nature of their job. 

The article, The Psychology of Returning to the Office: How Design Helps, discusses these factors and more. There is a reference list at the end.

 

Ageing and work: debunking the myths

Two men are working on a construction site. One is holding a circular saw which has just cut through a large timber board.Age discrimination is illegal in Australia, but when it comes to employment things get tricky. And then there is the question of the government wanting people to work to a later age. However, what are the real facts on this issue? Philip Taylor is a researcher in this field and challenges the many long-held notions about ageing and work. He lists eight myths in a summary of an article for the Diversity Council of Australia

Debunking the myths:

Myth 1. Age discrimination towards older workers is endemic. Reality: Age discrimination is potentially faced by all workers.

Myth 2: Different generations have different orientations to work. Reality: It is employee life stage (e.g. school leaver, working parent, graduating to retirement) that makes a big difference – not generation.

Myth 3: Older people are an homogeneous group. Reality: Older and younger people have intersectional parts of their identity which impacts on how they experience inclusion at work.

Myth 4: Older workers outperform younger ones in terms of their reliability, loyalty, work ethic and life experience. Reality: Performance is not linked to age – except in very rare circumstances.

Myth 5: Older people have a lifetime of experience that managers should recognise. Reality: Relevant experience, is more valuable than experience, of itself.

Myth 6: Younger workers are more dynamic, entrepreneurial, and tech savvy than older workers. Reality: Older people have a lot to offer the modern workplace.

Myth 7: Younger workers feel entitled and won’t stick around. Reality: Younger workers are more likely to be in insecure employment and to experience unemployment. 

Myth 8: Older people who stay on at work are taking jobs from younger people. Reality: Increasing the employment of older workers does not harm and may even benefit, younger people’s employment prospects.

The title of the article on the Diversity Council website is, Myth Busting Age Discrimination at Work. You will have to sign in for the full paper. 

The summary is titled, What are the myths (and facts) on ageing and work? and you can find out a little more about the myths listed above.

You might be interested in a related article on including people with disability in the workplace – it’s a lot easier than most people think. 

 

Inclusive Towns: business, tourism and employment

A multicoloured logo of overlapping circles.The Inclusive Towns project is about increasing the participation and inclusion of people with disability. It presents the arguments heard before about missing out on potential business by ignoring this group and their fellow travellers. What makes this project different is help with employment of people with disability. The project produced a website with four key guides:

Links to many other helpful resources are included on this website including one on accessible events.

The project is a partnership between the City of Greater Bendigo, Loddon Shire & Mount Alexander Shire in Victoria. It was funded by the NDIS. 

A wheelchair user enters the frame on the left hand side. The background is a blurred out cafe setting.