Managers in Italy say there are various positive elements to employing people with disabilities. This has been revealed in an AstraRicherche study – commissioned by the Italian Multiple Sclerosis Association (AISM), Italian managers’ associations Manageritalia and Prioritalia and the publication Osservatorio Socialis – that has produced remarkable results and tells us that 75% of managers have had an experience of working with disabled employees during their careers. Most importantly, the survey highlights the fact that a large majority of managers (65.4%) believe that having colleagues with disabilities has led to managerial and organisational improvements, the positive effects of which also reach other employees. This last figure further supports the 82.2% of managers who say that managing someone with disabilities directly leads to improvements in management and organisation that benefit all the other employees as well as the company itself.
This is the first survey on the matter that highlights how, for managers, disabilities constitute an opportunity to improve their own productivity.
As AstraRicerche explains in the introductory note to the study on Italian managers’ experiences, “The managers interviewed say that enabling disabled people’s participation in the workplace is the spark that stimulates the kind of reorganisation that is healthy for productivity.” This is not just “do-goodism”, but recognition that it is people that need to be at the centre of our actions and, because this starts with the managers, it has a trickle-down effect throughout the company. For the same reason, those interviewed believe that rather than just having one figure, a disability manager, it is important to create disability management. In other words, 51% believe that having one specific figure dedicated to the cause is not ideal; rather – from a cultural as well as an organisational viewpoint – a selection of people should be driving the matter. In fact, 54% of managers believe that various issues should be handled by the company's management as a whole, by the entire organisation (only 9.1% believed the matter requires a specifically designated figure).
As well initiatives that can help improve attitudes towards disabled people, a constructive and positive relationship with non-profit associations is also important. In fact, for 82.6% of managers, companies have skills and experience that is exceedingly useful in helping raise awareness and spread information about managing disabilities within companies.
“This is the first survey on the matter that highlights how, for managers, disabilities constitute an opportunity to improve their own productivity,” notes Paolo Bandiera, General Affairs Manager at AISM. In short, Bandiera believes that having disabled employees, “Encourages others to find solutions to translate into company procedures which will in turn lead to the positive development of the workplace, which can then become more flexible for all employees.”
We offer cultural training to ensure that employing people with disabilities is not just a “mandatory gesture” but an opportunity for companies as a whole.
Training is of vital importance and should be designed both for managers and for disabled people. “As voluntary managers we have also supported non-profit organisations, helping them to develop IT courses that promote working opportunities,” says Giancarla Bonetta, Coordinator of the Voluntary Association Manageritalia Milan. “The task that we have set ourselves is to assist managers from a cultural point of view, to ensure that employing people with disabilities is not just a “mandatory gesture” but an opportunity for companies as a whole.” Overall, the research shows that disabilities are first and foremost an opportunity for managers and that having disabled employees falls within the realm of “normal company operations”.
The percentages back this up: 43.6% of managers see employing and having employed people with disabilities part of a company’s normal operations, just 31.5% believe it represents a growth opportunity for the company, while only 24.9% see it as something they do to meet a requirement.
The focus on training that Bonetta describes and the final suggestions that emerged from the research both point in the same direction: 74.8% of those asked see increasing staff education and training on disabilities in the workplace as a must in order to increase the employment of those with disabilities. The topics they believe should be prioritised are: appreciating diversity as a company-wide issue that affects everyone, managing skill changes, increasing the responsibility of the company and conciliatory measures between individuals and the company.
The evolution of company procedures does not just support those with disabilities, it can be an advantage for everyone.
“It’s a new approach,” Bandiera explains. “The incentive that inspires so many forms of innovation, from home working to the so-called ‘lavoro 4.0’ [smart working], is precisely this – overcoming rigid ways of working. The evolution of company procedures does not just support those with disabilities, it can be an advantage for everyone.” This is another reason why the AISM aims to establish partnerships with companies, to encourage a diverse culture that includes disabilities. “If staff know, for example, what problems a person with multiple sclerosis experiences, it’s easier for them to sympathise. Some companies even run practical workshops to teach about the symptoms of the condition (fatigue, visual impairment, etc.). This can change attitudes towards this disability.”
Sometimes, however, a cultural change alone is not enough and technical measures are necessary both in contracts and with regard to logistics. “This is naturally much easier for larger companies,” Bandiera notes, recognising that such changes are more difficult for SMEs, although they are certainly not impossible. “It is often the case that, as an association, we are called upon to run individual courses relating to people suffering from MS. This is why it strikes me as a positive thing that the study has revealed a desire to work with the third sector. It is a step towards raising awareness and helping people overcome prejudices.”
Sustainability is a term often associated with the future of almost any activity, but we must not neglect the fact that companies today need new incentives for sustainable development. Listening to the needs of disabled employees is one of those incentives. And it is on this territory – where the social responsibility of companies also comes into play – that the AISM operates. The value companies place in training courses that focus diversity shows the impact this has already had: such companies have taken it upon themselves to identify organisational solutions such as flexible working to allow for a better work-life balance. They also train occupational physicians. to give them the appropriate skills. “Having an internal figure who is trained in disabilities, even across a network of companies, is an important and enabling factor, but one person is not enough,” Bandiera concludes. “We need to have a systematic approach and that is the direction in which we are beginning to head.”