In a recent webinar, we heard from Rachel Billington, HR Senior Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Metropolitan Police, on how integral a good workplace adjustments process is in helping employees to successfully adapt to change in the workplace. With over 45,000 employees, diversity and inclusion forms a fundamental part of the Metropolitan Police’s business practices, policies and procedures. Recently, they’ve redesigned their workplace adjustment process, and during the session, Rachel shared some of their key learnings. Based on this, we’ve highlighted some considerations to make when it comes to assessing and improving your own workplace adjustments process.
Before starting anything, the first step is to really assess how well you’re doing in terms of diversity and inclusion. Are you really truly inclusive of everyone? How well does your organisation manage disability? Is it easy for your employees to access information and services that will help improve their working day?
A few years ago the Met Police asked themselves this very question. In fact, as part of their D&I strategy, they appointed the Business Disability Forum to review their practices, policies and procedures. That’s where they found out that, when it came to managing disability, there were some areas in which they could improve. The review revealed that as an organisation, they were taking too long to implement workplace adjustments, and there was some perception that disability wasn’t as high on the agenda of Senior Management, as some other D&I initiatives.
So what did they do?
Once you’ve reviewed your practices, policies and procedures (and given yourself kudos for all your successes!), address any challenges by firstly uncovering the cause. Talk to your people to find out more about their thoughts on the topic - ask them what they feel is lacking, and what they long for.
When the Met Police delved deeper into their workplace adjustment process, they discovered that;
When you have a clear understanding of the challenges and why they exist, it’s time to start addressing them with solutions.
The Met Police reviewed each of the points mentioned above, and thought carefully about how they could improve their current process to meet the needs of all their employees. Below are the four key solutions they chose to implement:
As HR Senior Diversity and Inclusion Lead, Rachel felt that a good place to start was to introduce a tool that allowed their employees to express their needs. So, they brought in a ‘Workplace adjustment passport’ and a ‘Carers passport’.
A workplace adjustment passport is a non-mandatory document owned by the individual and shared with their line manager. They can be in the form of a paper or an electronic document, and provide a way for individuals to express their needs without the limitations that are often found with forms.
Covering a spectrum of conditions, from neurodiversity and hidden disabilities to other long-term health conditions, the passport is an informal document that uses questions and free text, as opposed to drop down menus and check boxes, to enable the organisation to hear from an individual in their own words.
Questions such as ‘Tell us what it’s like for you on a good day’ and ‘Tell us what your condition is like on a difficult day’ helps the individual to express what it’s really like for them day to day, and that’s advantageous for spectrum conditions such as Autism.
The carers passport is a similar document, which allows employees to express their caring responsibilities for those dependent on them.
Since introducing both passports, the Met Police initially found a higher completion rate with the carers passport compared to the workplace adjustments passport, which really shows the need to include these individuals within your disability confidence strategies too.
In addition to being an empowering tool for your employees, the passports also help to break down any fear associated with talking about disability in the workplace - for both the employee and their manager - and provide structure for those sensitive discussions. They also help to minimise those repeated discussions employees often have to have. If there is a change in line manager, for example, they can simply hand over their passport to fill their new manager in on their needs or responsibilities. In terms of employees enquiring about a workplace adjustment, they’re also a handy tool that could help speed up the process - all the information is readily there for the employee to pass over.
To help inform the design of their own template, Rachel did some research and found some great examples of both forms of passports, including;
Creating a workplace adjustments process that’s easy to navigate and quick to implement is fundamental in getting those reasonable adjustments out to the individuals that need them. So, this was a key focal area for the Met Police.
“It can be really complex to make sure people get what they need to thrive at work and help them to work to the best of their ability, so what we’re doing is, we’re introducing an expert hub for managers and individuals to deal with all things workplace adjustments. We’re creating a dedicated space so that employees know where to go to access what they need.”
Not only that, they’re maximising the usage of the centralized hub area by expanding its use to stakeholders and suppliers, involving everyone in the process to coordinate effectively. This will help to reduce the time spent on administrative tasks, which have been identified as a challenge from line managers across the organisation.
Alongside the centralised hub, the Met Police are also introducing tiered levels of support, made possible by a change in mindset. They’re introducing a system so that employees can self-approve adjustments for low-risk items, such as those items that can be bought on the high street. This will help to speed up the implementation of reasonable adjustments. They’re focusing on ‘prescription, not justification’ by giving their people the autonomy and trust to go ahead and purchase the relatively low-cost items that can make a huge improvement to their working day. This is something that will be really beneficial in supporting employees to adapt to change, and as we’ve seen over the last few months, change can happen quite quickly and unexpectedly. A process that empowers instant and reactive supports to be put in place is really valuable.
“We found that a lot of our policies were based on the 0.1% of people who perhaps don’t abide by the rules. We also view workplace adjustments as standard and not exceptional. It’s not just about disabilities - many of us at some point will need some type of workplace adjustment and we need to be able to respond to that.”
As the Met Police work hard to improve their workplace adjustments process, they’re also working to improve their disability confident culture.
“One of the key things we’ve learned is the importance of a disability confident culture. You can have the best tools, the best passports, the best workplace adjustments process, but if they don’t land in a culture where disability is both celebrated and included, then they will not take you very far.”
Tackling the misconception that disability wasn’t as high on the agenda at senior level as other D&I initiatives, they introduced a senior champion. As senior champion, their Assistant Commissioner is helping to maintain communication with employees, and communication has been an active part of the improvement process.
“We recognised that building trust takes a long time and that by taking action and delivering on our commitment this would in turn help to build trust. The whole process before implementation was a trust building exercise as we communicated our intentions to the staff associations from the outset, keeping them updated and asking for their input into the design. This meant that by the time solutions were implemented, there was some trust there already and they felt they were part of the change.”
Their communication plan is helping to keep the topic of disability confidence on the agenda and some tools used include; a video and blog series from their senior champion and user experience studies from both someone that has completed a passport and a manager who has received them.
Built into every part of your D&I strategy should be time for a critical review, to ensure that what you’re doing is making a positive impact. Do this by engaging with those directly affected, and for larger organisations, use disability staff associations and trade unions as another means of hearing the voice of your employees.
As Rachel highlighted in our webinar session, diversity and inclusion strategies are ongoing and must always remain on top of the agenda;
“There’s still a long way for us to go, and that’s important - never get complacent in terms of diversity and inclusion. We will continue to build upon our Workplace Adjustments Programme, and we’ll continue to measure how we respond as an organisation when individuals need support. We know that concerns remain, and arguably may always be there, so our realistic aim is to minimise this, rather than eliminate it completely.”
Throughout the recent months, Rachel has found that the workplace adjustment and carers passports have been a huge help for their employees as they’ve been seeking solutions to help them adapt to change. Having a process in place that’s helping to improve the time taken to assess, review and implement reasonable adjustments has been extremely beneficial. So, as Rachel expressed, there’s never been a more important time to talk about D&I and put disability confidence high on the agenda;
“If you were ever going to make a change, the time is now. We’ve shown in this pandemic that we can change and adapt at pace, whilst still being productive. So our next challenge is to look at the changes to our workplaces as they are now, and in the future, and react to those.“
If you would like to hear more from Rachel, check out the recorded webinar session as part of our Disability Inclusion series. Or, contact our friendly team for more information about the scheme, and how our technology can help you support a diverse workforce.
Rachel Billington is HR Senior Diversity and Inclusion Lead at the Metropolitan Police where she has been involved in the redesign of their workplace adjustments strategy, including successfully introducing the Disability Workplace Adjustment Passport, as well as the Passport for Carers.