Advice for managers

4. Advice for managers

All employers benefit when their organisation invests in more skilled and confident managers through guidance and training. Managers often set the tone for the team and drive team culture.

An inclusive workplace is one in which:

  • policies are in place to ensure everyone is included, including disabled people
  • managers recognise the importance of a diverse workplace that includes disabled people
  • managers and staff understand what disabled people can do
  • managers develop all their staff, including disabled employees, to their full potential
  • managers and staff address barriers to employment, retention, or promotion for all.

Managers who take a leadership position on disability play a crucial role in creating an inclusive workplace for disabled employees and can help transform the management style within an organisation.

Flexible management allows disabled employees to contribute fully to their organisation. Many of the adjustments made for disabled people are also needed by other employees, so adopting more flexible employment practices can help all employees.

Learning how to effectively manage disabled people will also have professional benefits for managers, such as having an increased ability to recognise and enable human potential (see section 2, professional benefits for managers).

This section includes advice for direct managers about:

  • reasonable accommodation
  • disability responsiveness training
  • useful tools to effectively work with disabled employees (including those with mental health issues)
  • some health and safety and technology tips.

4.1 Reasonable accommodation

The creation of an environment in which employees' specific needs are met.

The term 'reasonable accommodation' describes the creation of an environment in which employees' specific needs are met, allowing equal opportunity and enabling all employees to do their jobs as well as possible.

Employers already provide reasonable accommodation for many employees, including:

  • parents caring for young children or other relatives
  • people with religious or ethical beliefs
  • disabled people.

Reasonable accommodation for disabled people could include:

  • making physical adjustments, such as ensuring access to a building
  • modifying the way a job is done, for example by allocating aspects of the job to another employee
  • allowing flexible working hours
  • giving instructions in writing as well as verbally
  • showing people how to do a task.

Most reasonable accommodations cost very little or nothing.

Successful managers will get the best out of all their employees, including disabled employees, if they identify what will assist employees to do the best job possible. A reasonable accommodation may be a part of that. Most accommodations are low or no cost – for example, flexible hours, instructions in writing as well as verbally and showing people how do a task.

What is considered reasonable?

The Human Rights Act obliges all employers to take reasonable measures to meet employees’ needs. Factors to take into account when considering what is reasonable include:

  • how effective the adjustment is in assisting the disabled employee to perform their job
  • whether it is practical to make the adjustment
  • the financial or other costs of the adjustment
  • the extent of the organisation’s resources
  • how much disruption, if any, will be caused to the organisation or other people
  • the size of the organisation and the nature of its business.

Providing reasonable accommodation for disabled employees

All employers should develop written policies on accommodations and flexible work practices. Written policies:

  • ensure consistent decision-making
  • help all staff know what the guidelines are and how to request an accommodation
  • help to document your organisation’s efforts to provide accommodations.

Don’t make assumptions about what a disabled person needs. The following process will help with identifying disabled employees’ specific needs:

  • The starting point for any discussion about reasonable accommodation should be the working conditions provided for all employees.
  • Before the disabled employee starts work, ask them what accommodations they would find useful. A variety of organisations can provide expert advice.
  • Where costs are involved, extra support may be available (for example, through a Workplace Modification Grant or the Job Support Fund).
  • Provide the required accommodations and check with the employee that the accommodations are meeting their needs.

Talk with the employee regularly to check whether the accommodations are still meeting their needs. This is especially important if the employee’s needs change or if there are changes to the workplace or the job.

When to use Support Funds for reasonable accommodation

Workbridge is the provider contracted to administer Support Funds. Employees must apply to Workbridge for Support Funds.

Workbridge administers and pays the Job Support Funds on behalf of the Ministry of Social Development. There are two types:

  • Job Support funding – provides financial assistance for people with a health condition or a disability so they can gain or retain open employment by removing barriers incurred because of a disability.

    Job Support grants and subsidies cover additional costs incurred because the person is disabled or has ill health while they participate in employment.
  • Training Support funding – provides financial assistance for disabled people or people with ill health so they can gain or retain open employment through participation in training and other activities.

    Training Support grants cover additional costs incurred because the person is disabled or has ill health while they participate in training, work experience, education, or capacity assessments.

    Training must be consistent with realistic and reasonable outcomes for the individual. Training Support will only be granted if the applicant is considered capable of undertaking the training. A clear link between the training opportunity and the employment goal must be established.

Any organisation that makes necessary accommodations for its employees will quickly become an employer of choice for disabled people.

Many of these accommodations can be provided by employers at a very limited cost.

Where support or modified basic equipment is provided to all employees, this will be funded by the employer. Where the support covers specialised equipment, such as a CCTV reader or NZSL interpreters required, talk to your employee about seeking funding from ACC or Support Funds administered by Workbridge. If the employee receives specialised equipment through Support Funds, they own the equipment and can take it with them should they move jobs.

Additional information

Information on reasonable accommodation for both the employer and employee, including recommendations for employees with a mental health issue:

4.2 Useful tools to assist managers with creating an inclusive workplace

Managers play an essential role in creating an inclusive environment.

A fully inclusive environment ensures that both managers and their staff treat disabled employees fairly, as disabled employees’ colleagues also need to feel comfortable and confident working with them.

Disability responsiveness training

In building an inclusive workplace, providing disability responsiveness training is an important first step. It can help staff feel more comfortable with disabled colleagues. It helps them understand their own values and how they affect decisions to employ disabled people. The following resources will help create a disability responsive workplace.

Disability responsiveness trainer

Disability Responsiveness New Zealand
Phone: 027 457 5461

Working with disabled employees

Manager’s Guide – A best practice approach to working with disabled employees

This is a guide about how to treat disabled staff fairly and give them the same opportunities as their non-disabled colleagues. The guide was developed by Workbridge with the UK Employers’ Forum on Disability. Request from Workbridge:

Contact Workbridge online
Phone: 04 913 6422

The win-win of disability inclusion

Explore the International Labour Organization’s InfoStory to find out why employing people with disabilities makes good business sense.

Disability podcasts and employment

Business Disability Forum (UK) has some really interesting podcasts.

Working with employees who have mental health issues

The following resources can help build managers’ confidence in working with staff who have mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.

Mindful Employer publications

Tools and resources to help managers support employees who are experiencing mental health issues, including:

  • Mindful employers – Line Managers’ Resource
  • Making work work
  • Feeling stressed: keeping well.

Time to change

Advice about talking to people who have mental health issues.

Mental health in the workplace – Employee Toolkit

Provides employees with basic information about mental health problems in the workplace, and their rights and responsibilities.

Mental health in the workplace – Manager's Toolkit

Provides a learning resource for managers to help them deal positively with mental health issues that arise in the workplace.

Mental health in the workplace – Organisation's Toolkit

Provides information and resources for creating a positive and inclusive workplace for all workers, including those who have mental health problems.

Workers with mental illness: A practical guide for managers

Provides information on how to confidently work with staff who have mental health issues.

Te Reo Hāpai - The language of enrichment

Updating and creating Māori language used in the mental health, addiction, and disability sectors.

Line managers guide to working with employees with mental health issues

A third of line managers have admitted they would struggle to identify mental health issues and a similar percentage wouldn’t know what to do if a team member had a mental health problem.

Bupa has launched a free guide online for line managers: "Open up at work. Manager's guide" [pdf;2.72MB]. It is designed to support line managers – within any size of business – with their approach to mental health in the workplace.

People's Mental Health Report

A crowdfunded, crowdsourced story-based report, with stories of what really goes on, and goes wrong, in mental health services.

The People's Mental Health Report [pdf; 7.3MB]

4.3 Health and wellbeing

Managers need to look after the mental and physical well-being of all staff, including disabled employees. Creating a workplace where staff feel supported and are healthy can help to improve productivity and retention.

Stress and mental health at work

Tips for more effective management of work-related stress.

Case study = British Telecom Group

British Telecom developed a three-tiered mental health framework to improve the health, safety, and well-being of its staff:

  • Level one – promote employee well-being and prevent mental distress, for example through tips on the intranet and management training around softer skills.
  • Level two – identify distress and intervene early on to prevent it from escalating, through an online stress risk assessment for employees and companion training for line managers.
  • Level three – support and treatments for people experiencing mental health problems. Employees are encouraged to work with their line manager to produce an ‘advance directive’ to identify early warning signs and establish a plan of action for if they become distressed.

As part of this framework, British Telecom has also recently launched a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy service for staff experiencing mild-to-moderate mental health problems that do not need to be diagnosed by a doctor. Around 200 employees have used this service so far, and satisfaction rates have been very high.

Working Well guide and resources

As an employer or manager, you know it’s your people who provide the greatest potential for success in your business. Maintaining optimal mental health at work is too important to be left to chance: employees and employers will benefit from an active approach towards mental health in the workplace.

Working Well guide and resources from the Mental Health Foundation.

Mental health – five ways to wellbeing

The Mental Health Foundation has resources available on five ways to wellbeing:

  • give
  • be active
  • keep learning
  • connect
  • take notice.

Working with Anxiety

A YouTube video that explores how anxiety affects the ability to work [YouTube] and carry out other day to day activities, and highlights key ways to aid recovery.

Succeeding in job interviews’ by New Zealand Immigration

Advice for people going into an interview,by New Zealand Immigration.

4.4 Technology tips

Advances in technology have made it possible for many disabled people to participate in the workplace. The right technology can be an enabler while the wrong technology can create barriers.

Modern computer hardware and software can be adjusted to meet the needs of many disabled employees. For example, Microsoft Windows has ‘Ease of Access’ tools which include several options for screen magnification and contrast, adjustments to mouse and keyboard, screen reading, speech recognition, and visual alternatives to sounds. Modern telephones are also generally compatible with hearing aids and will have adjustments for volume and screen brightness.

Employees may need assistance to set up these options correctly.

A number of employees will need more specialist options.

Specialist options:

  • computer monitor
  • keyboard or mouse
  • headset with hearing aid connection
  • screen magnification (higher than 16x)
  • screen reading software
  • electronic magnifiers (CCTV readers)
  • speech recognition software
  • access to video remote sign language interpreters
  • Braille printer.

It’s best to get specialist advice to select the right options for a particular employee. Advice is generally available from the relevant specialist service providers.

Funding may be available for high-cost IT modifications (see Support Funds earlier in this section).

It’s also best to work with your IT department early in the discussions to ensure that the identified solutions will work within the particular environment.

It often takes time to implement alternate technology as IT needs to learn about the tool(s) and maintain security of their network. In addition, they may need to work outside the normal agency policies. Ideally, an IT department should have a single point of contact for implementing IT solutions for disabled employees.

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