People with Disabilities

In the wake of the pandemic, employee mental health is taking its rightful place as a business imperative. Not only are many companies implementing stigma-reduction initiatives, but they are also normalizing reasonable accommodations—most that wind up benefiting all employees. Here, we explore the top five, but first let’s bust a myth:

Myth: Accommodations are Expensive

Fact: In the Job Accommodation Network’s (JAN) most recent survey, almost half of employers said accommodations cost nothing, and 37 percent reported a median one-time cost of $300. Moreover, by law, accommodation cannot pose an undue burden to the employer.

Five Mental Health Accommodations and Their Benefits

Destigmatization Measures

Stigma thrives in silence. Fortunately, a 2022 Fisher Phillips survey found 60 percent of employers starting to have conversations about mental health—whether through ERGs or other workplace initiatives. That’s a good thing. Where stigma is sent packing, employees with mental health conditions are more able to bring their whole selves to the workplace—including the full range of their skills and talents. What’s more, in the absence of stigma, they are far more likely to ask for a simple accommodation that could allow their abilities to shine even more. Ultimately, employers will reap the benefits. Companies that prioritize inclusion of people with a variety of disabilities perform better than peer organizations that lack this level of inclusion.

Flexible Schedules

A 2022 study by McKinsey & Company found that, overall, employees and employers are already embracing flexible schedules and conditions—because it works. “Employers report many benefits from shifting to flexible schedules,” reported SHRM. “Ranging from making it easier to attract talent to increasing employee productivity, loyalty, and retention.” Similarly, a survey by LinkedIn Talent Solutions found 94 percent of employers reporting the same or higher productivity than with traditional 9-to-5 teams. Because flexible schedules remove stress around doctor appointments, therapy, or support group attendance, employees are better able to manage mental health disabilities and conditions—or even eliminate some of them.

Rest Area/Quiet Space

According to Mental Health America, “Employees should have access to safe, calm, and private space(s) at their company.” Brain science bears this out. Typical office distractions—pinging email and chat messages, office machinery, coworker discussion at volume, and multi-tasking—drench the brain in cortisol and adrenaline. In the short term, these chemicals fuel us through short periods of stress. However, long term, they can deplete the body of calming hormones like serotonin and dopamine—affecting everything from cognition to heart rhythm, breathing, sleep, and pain levels. Some companies are even incorporating meditation in their workplaces—an initiative supported by several studies, including a comprehensive 2016 analysis by Case Western Reserve University. Their research found that “injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.” Google, Aetna, Mayo Clinic, and the United States Marine Corps, among others, are already doing this.

Identifying and Reducing Triggers

For conditions such as anxiety, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, common triggers include excessive noise, pulsing light, crowded spaces, and spaces without easy exits. An individual recovering from PTSD, for example, may experience traumatic memories that involved being trapped. Similarly, an employee with panic disorder may be triggered in large groups. While some workspaces—a warehouse floor, for example—may not allow for trigger mitigation, many do. Simply allowing an employee to move to a different workstation could be enough to do the trick. In meetings, an individual may be allowed to sit near the exit, while another might have a schedule that places them at work when the office is less crowded. Such accommodations are easily implemented and cost nothing.

On-Site Support Person

Employees who live with mental health challenges tend to feel isolated in the workplace, so the presence of even one empathetic person can make all the difference. Many companies have begun implementing mental-health-focused ERGs, groups that encourage interpersonal connection through the safe sharing of personal stories. Similarly, some organizations have begun to implement mental health “buddy” or “peer” programs. In short, a mental health peer is an individual who has lived experience with a mental health condition. Identified workplace peers (or buddies) typically undergo training—including active listening, ethics, and boundary establishing—equipping them to be supportive in a peer capacity, rather than a clinical one. Multiple studies reveal that this strategy works. Employees engaged in a workplace peer support initiative experienced enhanced mental well-being, heightened job contentment, and even elevated productivity levels. 

Don’t Overlook One in Four Potential Employees

One in four adults in the United States lives with a diagnoseable mental health condition. They might be your grocer, accountant, custodian, physician, or CEO. They could be the next candidate you interview—the one who is a perfect fit but has a standing appointment on Wednesday afternoons. “The reality is that workers with mental illnesses are no different than your average employee,” reports Health Partners, citing that employers who hire people with mental illness say that they are as productive, punctual, dependable, and motivated as those who do not have a mental health condition. This finding is consistent with the data when it comes to employees with disabilities at large. In fact, a study by analyst firm Accenture found that companies that actively recruit and support people with disabilities, including mental health conditions, earn six times more revenue, 2.6 times more net income, and two times more economic profit than companies that don’t.

As labor shortages persist across industries, it’s imperative for employers to embrace the workability of one in four adults in the United States who live with a mental disability. PRIDE Industries has decades of experience helping companies leverage the talents and business advantages of employing people with mental health and other disabilities. This includes a broad range of expertise in identifying and incorporating accommodations that significantly enhance overall success.

Let Us Help You Build an Inclusive Labor Force

Inclusive workforces, including those that employ people with disabilities, boast 35 percent greater productivity. PRIDE Industries has helped hundreds of companies to make their teams more inclusive, helping recruit, hire, train, and support this reliable talent pool—free of charge to employers.

When it comes to workforce inclusion, significant progress has been made in hiring and retaining people with physical disabilities. To some degree, inclusion has extended to those who live with neurologically based disabilities as well. Amidst these strides, however, one group is often left out of the conversation: people with mental (or psychiatric) health conditions.

While 90 percent of Fortune 500 companies report that they’ve hired applicants with physical disabilities, only 20 percent say they’ve hired people with mental health conditions. Given that one in four adults in the United States lives with a mental health condition, that translates to a huge untapped workforce.

Fortunately, some business leaders are speaking up about this aspect of inclusion. “It’s simply silly” to think that employers would intentionally or unintentionally exclude such a significant percentage people from their workplaces, said Aubrey Blanch, VP of Equitable Operations at Culture Amp.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMSHA), people with mental health conditions tend to be just as productive and dedicated as other employees. Of those already in the workforce, SAMHSA notes, “Employers often do not know if someone has a mental health condition, but if the condition is known to the employer, they often report good attendance and punctuality as well as motivation, good work, and job tenure on par with, or greater than, other employees.”

As for accommodation costs, Blanch observed that they are typically nominal—a fact supported by data. She also emphasized that everyone needs specific support to succeed. Moreover, according to a survey by the Job Accommodations Network (JAN), accommodations for employees with disabilities make the workplace better for everyone.

What is a Mental Health-Related Disability and How Prevalent Are They?

A mental health condition becomes a disability when it substantially limits one or more major life activities. As mentioned above, roughly one in four adults in the United States lives with a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. Anxiety and depression are the most prevalent conditions, followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and bipolar disorder. And high rates of mental health conditions aren’t limited to the United States. Studies predict that one out of every two people, worldwide, will develop a mental health disorder in their lifetime. By 2030, mental health will be the leading cause of disease, globally.

Given that so many people live with a significant mental health condition—and research shows that employment improves mental health—their inclusion in the workforce should be a given. So, why do these individuals face employment barriers?

The answer lies in stigma—negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes that society attaches to certain groups. In the case of mental conditions, today’s stigma echoes draconian superstitions dating back centuries. Though time has marked incremental shifts in attitude, much work is still needed to dismantle long-held misconceptions.

The Workplace is No Place for Stigma

Kaiser Permanente found stigma to be prevalent in the workplace, with eight out of 10 employees afraid to mention their condition or seek accommodation. Lyra Health echoes this finding, citing that stigma silences employees, making them “less likely to take steps to support their mental health.” Stigma deters even eager, highly qualified job seekers who fear asking for even the simplest mental health accommodation.

In addition to harming employees and candidates, stigma deprives employers of able, skilled employees. A quiet space or flexible schedule, for example, may be all an employee needs to be a top producer. When fear of an employer’s judgment stops the accommodation discussion before it starts, valuable skillsets remain underutilized or untapped entirely.

Stigma is exacerbated by a limited understanding of mental health as a spectrum, according to stigma expert Professor Stephen Hinshaw. “We often go immediately to extreme cases…a tiny percent of people with very severe, untreated chronic mental illness.” Focusing on extreme cases perpetuates cultural ignorance and fear, silencing those with less severe conditions. To break this cycle, Hinshaw advocates for a shift in workplace culture to encourage open discussions about mental health without shame or fear of repercussions.

Links Between Mental Health Conditions and Excellence

Progress has been made, but lingering misconceptions about mental health continue to hinder workplace inclusion. The most damaging fallacies cast an entire person as wholly “mentally ill,” rather than simply as a person that lives with a mental health condition that affects a certain aspect of their life. But, just as Deafness doesn’t have to impair a person’s ability to communicate effectively, and wheelchair use has no bearing on managerial skills, limits posed by even a severe mental health condition don’t automatically translate to job performance. In fact, data underscores positive correlations between some types of mental illness and success.

In a 2015 study, researcher Dr. Michael Freeman found that 49 percent of entrepreneurs who start a company have experienced a mental illness. A 2016 study published in Molecular Neuropsychiatry revealed that people with bipolar disorder, in particular, possess several business-oriented personality traits, including drive and motivation, ideation originality, and cognitive flexibility. Still further research by Nassir Ghaemi, MD, found similar links between leadership qualities and mental conditions such as bipolar disorder, anxiety, and depression.

People with a tendency toward anxiety tend to also be detail oriented, organized, creative, and punctual. Data indicates that people with certain types of PTSD demonstrate heightened empathy—increasingly found to be an imperative business skill. Moreover, several researchers have found depression underlying the empathy expressed by the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other successful leaders. It’s hard to imagine a world where the skills and talents of these luminaries had remained unutilized.

Inclusion Works

Copious research finds several business benefits associated with including people with disabilities in the workforce. Among them are improved work culture, boosted productivity, and increased market appeal. A 2023 study by Accenture found that companies that actively employ and support people with disabilities achieve greater financial outcomes—1.6x more revenue, 2.6x more net income, and 2x more economic profit—compared to peer organizations. A National Institutes of Health review drew similar conclusions, adding increased safety, higher employee retention, better company image, and boosted customer loyalty to the list.

With mental health awarness on the rise, it makes sense for companies to extend inclusion efforts toward those who live with them. And this level of inclusivity “isn’t actually that complicated,” said Blanch. “It simply requires intentionality and effort (that’s rarely about any type of financial cost).”

A big part of that intentionality centers around creating a work culture that normalizes mental health challenges and disabilities. Some companies are already taking innovative approaches to this. In 2023, Mind Share Partners, for example, launched the Leaders Go First campaign—a national initiative that featured a collection of videos from C-level leaders sharing their personal mental health stories. Microsoft, Dove, Unilever, Bell, and Pinterest all feature robust mental health awareness initiatives as well. Still other companies have encouraged open disclosure for some time. Barclay’s “This Is Me” initiative has featured employees sharing their personal mental health jouneys since 2013.

Where stigma is reduced and a few basic accommodations implemented, organizations can reap the benefits of a truly inclusive workforce—one that includes skills and talents that would otherwise go untapped. With labor shortages impacting many industries, employers cannot afford to overlook the one in four adults in the United States living with a mental health condition, many of whom are willing and able to contribute to the workforce. PRIDE Industries has decades of experience helping hundreds of businesses tap the talents and the business benefits of employing people with disabilities, including mental health conditions.

Let Us Help You Build an Inclusive Labor Force

Inclusive workforces, including those that employ people with disabilities, boast 35 percent greater productivity. PRIDE Industries has helped hundreds of companies to make their teams more inclusive, helping recruit, hire, train, and support this reliable talent pool—free of charge to employers.

Misconceptions abound when it comes to employment for people with disabilities despite growing awareness and efforts to promote inclusivity in the workplace. These myths often stem from a lack of understanding and can hinder businesses from tapping into a diverse and talented workforce. In this article, we aim to debunk the most common myths surrounding the employment of individuals with disabilities.

Myth 1: People with disabilities aren’t qualified.

Facts: There are many qualified candidates with disabilities that have the necessary education and experience for a variety of jobs. In fact, employees with disabilities often bring innovative, efficient approaches to tasks, offering fresh ideas and methods.

An individual’s disability may have nothing to do with the job they’ve applied for. Moreover, people with disabilities, like any other group, are not a homogenous population. They are simply individuals whose abilities often face societally created barriers.

Quoted in a recent Forbes article, former Connecticut state senator, past Chair of the American Association of People with Disabilities, and disability attorney, Ted Kennedy Jr. said, “For too long, people with disabilities—individuals who are perfectly qualified and overwhelmingly willing to work—face enormous barriers to being offered a job.” Kennedy cited a recent study by Accenture which provides “compelling evidence” of the many benefits employees with disabilities bring to the workforce, including an acceleration of overall business performance.

Myth 2: Reasonable accommodation is costly.

Facts: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) stipulates that employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” for people with disabilities. Many employers wrongly assume such accommodations are prohibitively expensive. The truth is that accommodation is surprisingly easy in most cases. In a survey of 3,528 employers by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), 49.4% reported that the accommodations for employees with disabilities “cost absolutely nothing.” For employers that incurred a one-time cost to accommodate employees with disabilities, the median expenditure was just $300.

Many accommodations for people with disabilities—ramps, close captioning, quiet spaces—also benefit employees without disabilities as well as customers. And, when employees see employers cultivate a sense of belonging, they feel better about coming to work—even when they’re not the ones being accommodated.

The late disability rights advocate Judy Heumann put it this way, “Disability only becomes a tragedy when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives—job opportunities or barrier-free buildings, for example.”

At the same time, companies who hire people with disabilities are eligible for tax credits and other government initiatives that can totally offset, or even surpass, the cost of accommodation.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit, for example, is a federal program that provides employers with tax credits for hiring individuals from certain target groups that have faced barriers to employment, including people with disabilities. Tax credits are also available to improve architectural accessibility, and several states offer their own incentives related to hiring people with disabilities and creating accessible workplaces.

Myth 3: Managers can’t expect the same level of performance from employees with disabilities.

Facts: Job performance of people with disabilities has proven equal to, if not better than, that of workers without disabilities—a fact underscored by studies dating back decades.

In 1990, DuPont surveyed 811 employees with disabilities, finding that 90 percent rated average or better in job performance. Similar studies in 1973 and 1981 found employees with disabilities rated higher than their peers without disabilities. A 2002 study by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rehabilitation Research and Training Center found that employees with disabilities “are as capable and productive” as employees without disabilities, including in the areas of timeliness, punctuality, task consistency, and work speed.

Not only are employees with disabilities highly productive on an individual level, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, businesses that include employees with disabilities see a 72 percent increase in employee productivity.

Myth 4: Companies that hire people with disabilities are less competitive.

Facts: This myth is not only false, the opposite is the case–companies that actively hire people with disabilities perfrom better than peers. According to Accenture’s groundbreaking research, companies that actively employ and support people with disabilities achieve 1.6 times more revenue, 2.6 times the net income, and twice the economic profit compared businesses that do not.

Similarly, a National Institutes of Health Review of 6176 studies found that companies that employ people with disabilities see “improvements in profitability” stemming from profits and cost-effectiveness; low turnover and high retention; high levels of reliability, punctuality, and employee loyalty; and an enhanced company image.

Myth 5: People with disabilities don’t apply for jobs at my company.

Facts: Some employers assume that people with disabilities aren’t interested in working at their companies because few apply. In fact, many online job applications aren’t accessible to people with disabilities. According to a survey by the Partnership on Employment & Accessible Technology (PEAT), 46 percent of respondents rated their most recent attempt to apply for a job online as “difficult to impossible.” Color-reliant applications, poor contrast, mobile device incompatibility, screen reader incompatibility, and rapid auto-timeout presented the biggest challenges.

Ableist language in job ads can discourage people with disabilities from even attempting to apply. Boilerplate verbiage like “must be able to lift 50 pounds”—which may have nothing to do with actual job duties—may deter a highly qualified candidate with physical challenges. While some jobs do require physicality, words matter when it comes to specific physical requirements. For example, will an employee truly need to “walk” or “crouch”? Or will they simply need to be able to move from point A to point B?

The ADA requires employers to provide equal opportunity to people with disabilities, beginning with the application process. The World Wide Web Consortium has published Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to help businesses evaluate their website’s accessibility, including online job application functions. When it comes to advertising jobs, The Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability  Inclusion (EARN) recommends creating job announcements that emphasize the specific outcomes a job requires, rather than how the duties should be accomplished.

Employment for People with Disabilities: Like Hiring Any Employee

Employment for people with disabilities is like employment for anybody else. Each individual is equipped with strengths, weaknesses, goals, and needs. Much the same as it is with any employee, leveraging the capabilities of an employee with a disability is about identifying strengths and abilities and providing the tools and support they need to be successful.

Let Us Help Solve Your Labor Shortages

The US Chamber of Commerce recommends that businesses turn to experienced partners to tap the many benefits—including tax incentives—of employing people with disabilities. PRIDE Industries has helped hundreds of companies do just that, helping recruit, hire, train, and support this growing and reliable talent pool—free of charge to employers.

Companies of all kinds are in the midst of a persistent labor shortage, and the  need for a talent pipeline is acute for many employers. The U.S. Chamber puts it this way: “We hear every day from our member companies—of every size and industry, across nearly every state—they’re facing unprecedented challenges trying to find enough workers to fill open jobs.” To solve this problem, employers are seeking innovative staffing solutions, but there’s one that may not be on employers’ radar: Work groups comprised of employees with disabilities.

What Are Work Groups?

Hundreds of companies have partnered PRIDE Industries for work groups for a reliable talent pipeline. In a nutshell, work groups are comprised of three employees with disabilities who are placed at a business, in accordance with the workplace’s staffing needs. Each group is supported onsite by a trained, dedicated employment coach.

PRIDE Industries serves as the employer of record, taking on the recruiting, hiring, training, payroll, supervision, and quality control work—eliminating management overhead for the partner business. What’s more, the program can be tailored for specific roles, offering flexible, scalable solutions while the pre-employment preparation process and on-the-job support ensure a workforce that’s both skilled and safe.

“They are the most can-do group I've ever been around, and they elevate the attitudes of everyone around them. They're happy to be here, and if I could have a hundred of them, I would.”

Business Benefits of Work Groups as a Talent Pipeline

As the nation’s leading employer of people with disabilities, PRIDE Industries has been successfully utilizing the work group model as a talent pipeline for nearly two decades. It’s a staffing solution that’s proven effective across industries, offering numerous business benefits.

  • Pre-screened, qualified applicants.
  • Tailored and scalable to a variety of shifts, schedules, and seasons.
  • Supervision by a trained employment coach.
  • Guaranteed consistent staffing levels.
  • Payroll, Workers’ Comp, and liability insurance are covered.
  • Option to convert work group employees to direct hires if desired, and the hired employees are still eligible for job coaching.

Benefits of Employing People with Disabilities

In addition to the business benefits of the work group employment model, businesses that actively include people with disabilities enjoy additional proven outcomes.

  • The retention rate for employees with disabilities is higher and absenteeism is lower—a huge plus in today’s high-turnover climate.
  • The presence of employees with disabilities boosts overall company morale. When employees see their workplace embracing inclusivity, the sense of belonging for all employees is enhanced.
  • Businesses that employ people with disabilities have growing appeal to today’s customer. A 2018 study by analyst firm Accenture found that 62 percent of consumers globally prefer to buy goods and services from companies that “stand for something bigger.”
  • Companies that employ people with disabilities enjoy a better bottom line, according to Accenture—with 1.6 times more revenue, 2.6 times more net income, and 2 times more economic profit than peer organizations.

What Types of Businesses Can Benefit from Work Groups?

The short answer is “most.”

From manufacturing to facilities management; food services to retail; landscaping to packaging; work groups do it all and do it well.

Packaging

According to Food Logistics Magazine, “quiet quitting”—employees unwilling to go above and beyond the scope of their regular responsibilities—has plagued the packaging industry.

At Knee Deep Brewing, where a PRIDE Industries work group helps package the brewery’s artisan beers for shipment, the opposite rings true.

“I’ve been extremely pleased with our PRIDE Industries team members,” said Jerry Moore, Owner and CEO of Knee Deep. The company was so impressed with the work ethic and positivity of its PRIDE Industries work groups that, for two years in a row, it created a season beer dedicated to them.

“The partnership with Knee Deep has been a perfect fit for our employees,” said PRIDE Industries Workforce Inclusion Manager Melissa Sweet. “They are always excited to get to work every day, as shown by a stellar attendance record!”

Hospitality

Some 80 percent of hotels are experiencing staffing shortages, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA)—all the more troubling with room demand reach record highs.

Meanwhile, at Thunder Valley Casino Resort, “elite” laundry work groups have managed 10,000 pounds of laundry per day since 2019. The teams’ work has proven so impressive that Laundry Manager Khawar Qureshi has called on other teams to “step up and learn” from them. “They are very productive,” said Qureshi. “And they do quality work.”

Director of Hotel Operations, Brant Kelly, concurs. “It’s a great workforce,” he said, adding that working with them has been “nothing but a pleasure.”

Manufacturing

Turnover on manufacturing floors is typically around 40 percent. At San Diego golf manufacturer Acushnet, parent of Titleist and FootJoy brands, that’s not the case. Employees with disabilities build packages for thousands of products, day in and day out.

“They are the most can-do group I’ve ever been around,” said Director of Manufacturing Doug Jacot.  “And they elevate the attitudes of everyone around them. They’re happy to be here, and if I could have a hundred of them, I would.”

Custodial

Whether it’s dealing with a messy corporate lobby, overflowing trash in a break room, or dirty hallway floors, it’s no secret that the custodial industry is struggling with staffing shortages and retention. Not so at the U.S. Forest Service’s Regional Headquarters on Mare Island, where a work group keeps the organization’s facilities clean and tidy.

“The Forest Service throws parties for our employees out there,” said Workforce Inclusion Employment Coach Assistant Manager Sean Sharpe. “Because they keep the place immaculate.”

Immaculate, indeed. This past December, a customer inspection of the facility rated the team’s work at a nearly perfect 99 percent. “The employees really know what they’re doing,” said Sharpe. “They could train me on the job.”

An Available Talent Pipeline

Ongoing labor shortages—there are more than 8 million unfilled front-line jobs—has experts like business consulting firm Gartner and employers like Google, IBM, and Salesforce urging companies to expand their talent search to include people with disabilities. “For years, organizations have talked about the strategic value of expanding and diversifying their talent pipelines,” said Gartner analyst Emily Rose McRae. “Organizations can no longer meet their talent needs solely through traditional sourcing methods and candidate pools.”

Over 10 percent of working-age Americans have a disability. Many who are currently unemployed are both skilled and eager to work. Through work group employment, they have the opportunity to let their abilities shine, giving smart employers that diverse talent pipeline that they need.

Let Us Help Solve Your Labor Shortages

The US Chamber of Commerce recommends that businesses turn to experienced partners to tap the many benefits—including tax incentives—of employing people with disabilities. PRIDE Industries has helped hundreds of companies do just that, helping recruit, hire, train, and support this growing and reliable talent pool—free of charge to employers.