Updated June 11, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has everyone facing personal and professional challenges we never could have expected. And employees with disabilities might have extra reasons for concern. Chronic pain, mental health conditions, learning and thinking differences, and many other types of disabilities can amplify the stress caused by COVID-19.
If you’re a manager or a team leader, it’s more important than ever to check in with employees. But many employers aren’t sure how to open the conversation.
Disability inclusion best practices can help you get started. These tips on ways to check on employees will improve your communication with everyone on your team — those with disabilities and those without.
1. Be specific in your communication
Avoid using general or abstract phrases or slang that could cause confusion. Especially during a time of stress, specific language will help everyone to have a shared understanding.
- Instead of this: How’s your work/life balance?
- Try this: What’s one thing we could change about work for you that would help you outside of work?
- Instead of this: Is there anything we can take off your plate?
- Try this: Are there any tasks on your list for this week that I could assign to someone else?
- Instead of this: Thanks for sharing that concern. Let’s make sure we talk about it again later.
- Try this: Thanks for sharing that concern. Let’s talk about it again during our 1 p.m. meeting on Thursday.
2. Share something about your own experience
A strong workplace disability inclusion strategy recognizes that employees are human. It encourages people to bring their whole selves to work. By showing vulnerability, you’ll help employees open up about their own experiences.
For example, if you’re feeling the pressure of a new childcare situation, sharing that information might help your employees feel comfortable discussing their own challenges.
3. Slow down and take pauses
Try to allow for pauses in conversation. A five-second pause can be useful for some employees with disabilities, who might need extra time to process and gather their thoughts. Silence can be a good support for people who use visual thinking.
And stress can affect every employee’s ability to process and retain information — so additional time to do that will likely be useful to everyone right now.
4. Offer support for any work-from-home tools
Many employees are using remote technologies for the first time. Some employees might have disabilities that make this especially challenging. For example, difficulties with things like social interaction, changes to routine, or language and expression could create extra barriers. If your business is suddenly remote, you’ll need good systems in place to help you successfully check in with employees.
You can support good virtual communication by:
- Creating clear instructions for using different channels, like video calls, instant messaging, and email
- Setting up scripts and examples showing employees how to interact using virtual technology
- Developing a specific procedure for how to ask for help if needed
5. Check on employees’ concerns about COVID-19
Employees might have disabilities that put them at a higher risk of serious complications from the coronavirus. Or they could have a mental health condition that causes extra anxiety about contamination. Particularly for employees in essential services, the realities of COVID-19 might be making it hard for anyone to do their best work.
When checking in with employees, listen to any concerns they might have about the coronavirus. Keep in mind that the Americans with Disabilities Act still applies during the coronavirus pandemic. That means that employers must work to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, including accommodations related to the coronavirus itself. The Job Accommodation Network offers additional advice for employers about reasonable accommodations and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Everyone’s having a hard time right now. Many employees with disabilities are facing extra challenges at work. And many people don’t disclose their disabilities to their employers.
By using these techniques to check in with employees — whether or not they have a disability you’re aware of — you’ll create a more inclusive culture that will support everyone on the team.