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26 Oct 2023
by Maggie Williams

REBA Inside Track: Personalisation, flexibility and peace of mind – the key elements needed for employees to thrive

Maggie Williams explores the findings from REBA’s Disability in the Workplace 2023 research, which considers the key benefits strategies, policies and cultures needed to support disabled employees and workers with long-term or chronic illnesses, impairments or conditions

REBA Inside Track: Personalisation, flexibility and peace of mind – the key elements needed for employees to thrive.jpg


At REBA, we have a long track record in researching and analysing the views of reward and benefits directors. But in the Disability in the Workplace 2023 report we have taken a wider approach, combining the opinions of employees as well as interviewing reward, benefits and HR professionals. 

We’ve taken this approach to better understand the lived experiences of disabled employees and workers with long-term or chronic illnesses, impairments or conditions. From an employer perspective, we were interested in finding out how businesses are supporting this often under-represented talent pool in their workforces. 

The findings show that, while many employees have a positive experience at work, the majority feel that their career prospects are hampered by their disability, illness or condition, and a significant minority believe that employers could do more to support them. But employers often don’t know where to start to create a culture, benefits strategy and policies that enable everyone to thrive at work and in their wider lives. 

Effective listening as a baseline 

The good news is that disabled employees are willing to talk openly about their conditions and experiences at work, and want to help line managers, team members and other colleagues to better understand and support their needs. 

This is a great opportunity for employers to draw on that willingness to talk, both through focus groups or employee networks and on an individual basis. But the message that comes through most clearly in the Disability in the Workplace 2023 research is that every individual has unique support needs, even if they share the same disability, illness or condition. There is no substitute for talking with colleagues about the adjustments they need personally, in a joined-up environment with line managers, HR, occupational health and team members where appropriate. 

Crucially, those conversations and adjustments need to drive action over the long term to enable an individual to perform at their best today, and meet their longer-term career aspirations. 

Flexibility needs a wider definition 

Flexible working has become one of the biggest strategic discussions for HR professionals, mostly focused on the balance between time spent working remotely and in the workplace. But many of our respondents said that they need a more nuanced definition of ‘flexibility’, effectively seeing flexibility around time as a potent form of reasonable adjustment. 

Many of the flexibilities that respondents said would help them are quite simple, such as a slightly extended lunch time, recognition that a task might take longer, or a quiet work space in an office. But they do need line managers to have both the autonomy and training to make these adjustments and manage their implementation as part of a supportive team environment. This is a cultural shift as well as part of flexible working policy. 

Benefits that offer financial security are a priority 

Employee benefits have a major role to play in supporting disabled employees and colleagues with a long-term or chronic illness, impairment or condition. Benefits that help to provide financial security are a key priority for our survey respondents, providing peace of mind if someone is unable to work, either day-to-day or for a longer period of time. When asked what would make a dream benefits package, three of the four most popular options related to financial support linked to illness, such as income protection, critical illness cover and support with everyday health costs. Anecdotally, at a more basic level, many respondents also said that they do not even qualify for sick pay. 

The findings from the Disability in the Workplace 2023 research show that basic but personalised adjustments, a culture of flexibility and benefits that provide peace of mind enable everyone in the workforce to perform at their best. That has positive benefits for individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole.