6 Steps towards a Supportive Workplace (inspired by Sainsbury's)

Recently on our Texthelp Talks podcast we were joined by Toby Hopkins, Colleague Inclusion and Engagement Executive at Sainsbury's. As a Texthelp customer, Sainsbury's provide Read&Write as a support tool for their staff - just one of a number of key measures they've taken to create a great place to work. This got us thinking: what does it mean to be an inclusive employer? What does this look like in practice? And how can technology help create more equitable work environments? 

If you work in HR or management, you’re probably familiar with DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion). DEI is a commitment to creating work cultures based on fairness. A fair workplace respects its employees’ rights and dignity, offers equal opportunities for progression within the organisation, and is welcoming to people of different backgrounds, circumstances, abilities and ways of thinking. 

Fairness shouldn’t end at the hiring process. A truly supportive workplace provides continual support so that all employees can fulfil their potential. As a result, supportive workplaces are more successful in retaining and developing their employees. 

In our podcast with Sainsbury’s, we heard about the initiatives the supermarket chain has put in place to support its employees, including those with disabilities, long-term health conditions or neurodiversity. Inspired by those initiatives, here are six strategies you can implement in your business.

Two women at work, chatting over a coffee.

Get to know your employees

Investing some time into understanding your employees and their working requirements will help you tailor your workplace setup. Consider having your team members take a workstyle test. Specially formulated for employees, the results will inform management on how best to accommodate their employees’ varied needs. They also make great icebreakers for new recruits and help build team cohesion! 

Many companies assign mentors to new employees to offer them guidance and support in their new role. However it isn’t only during the onboarding process that an employee can benefit from a listening ear. Mentor schemes and support networks build trust, grow office friendships (proven to boost intrinsic motivation and staff retention), and provide an informal space to discuss problems and share those all-important coping strategies.  

Create a work-friendly environment

Productivity thrives in workspaces that are flexible and fit for purpose. Address whether or not your workplace accommodates a range of workstyles and requirements. For example, the layout of an office can have a huge influence on how employees work and interact. Large, open-plan offices are great for collaborative work and team-building, but can easily become noisy and distracting. These spaces aren’t suitable for tasks that require high degrees of concentration, and can be overwhelming for staff who struggle with sensory processing.

Remote working has taught us that this principle extends to the virtual workplace. Establish flexible communication channels so colleagues can choose the option that best suits their query. Keep colleagues in the loop with email, chat messengers or Trello boards, and avoid over-scheduling meetings. A calendar overloaded with meetings isn’t the most efficient use of time or resources.

Employee wellbeing initiatives 

People do their best work when they are healthy, engaged and motivated. Establish internal initiatives that champion employee health and wellbeing, such as cycle to work schemes, subsidised gym memberships or flexible working options. 

In our podcast with Sainsbury’s Colleague Inclusion and Engagement Executive, we heard how the supermarket has integrated an Employee Assistance Programme into the employee benefits package, making this available to all employees regardless of department or seniority. Not only does this help staff at all levels to feel valued and supported, but it also operates as a key aspect of risk management, catching problems before they develop into more serious issues. As a result, Sainsbury’s saw staff morale and productivity increase, while absenteeism fell. 

Stay informed 

Understanding the challenges employees face in the workplace (and the accommodations you can provide) will ultimately pay dividends in staff morale and productivity. You’ll understand your rights and responsibilities as an employer, as well as the strategies you can implement to attract and retain a diverse workforce. 

Awareness days are great opportunities to shed light on issues such as hidden disabilities or neurodivergence, and to signpost staff to the supports available to them. Activities can include lunch-and-learn sessions, a talk from an invited speaker, or a charity fundraising event - anything that gets your team together and thinking about the cause at hand.  Events like this are a great step towards creating a workplace that’s inclusive and understanding of difference, where employees feel able to share their own experiences and ask for help if necessary. 

Provide employee supports

Ensuring your staff are properly equipped and supported to fulfil their role is part of your responsibility as an employer. For example, staff with visual impairments or dyslexia may benefit from text-to-speech software. The Access to Work Scheme offers workplace assessments for employees with disabilities or long-term health conditions, providing guidance to employees and organisations alike. Where possible, the scheme can also offer grants to cover the cost of assistive technology. 

With these measures in place, employees will feel respected, valued and equipped with the tools they need to produce their best work. 

Partner up 

Partnerships with external organisations can offer a wealth of expertise on inclusion practices. This is especially helpful for small businesses which don’t have a dedicated HR department or DEI specialist. 

One example is the Business Disability Forum, an organisation that connects businesses with the resources they need to support employees with disabilities or long-term conditions. They offer guidance for removing workplace barriers and aiding development at every stage in an employee’s career, from recruitment to retention to promotion. 

Companies can also get onboard with schemes such as the UK government’s Disability Confidence Scheme. These programmes provide a roadmap for making your business more accessible, giving you actionable steps and expert advice. Becoming an accredited Disability Confident employer signals your commitment to fair and inclusive employment, recognising your organisation as one which actively recruits, retains and develops a wide pool of talent. That’s good for you, and your employees. 

Next steps

Want to learn more about supporting neurodiversity in the workplace? We’ve put together a guide for managers and HR professionals. Or if you’re looking to get started with tools to support your staff, take a look at our Read&Write workplace solution.