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Hidden disabilities in the workplace and in the wider world

Hidden disabilities have been a common topic occurring in the news and social media of late. The sunflower lanyard has seemingly created debate in the times of Covid 19 with headlines including “has it lost its meaning in covid?” “How can we tell?” “Is the sunflower lanyard being used for the wrong reasons?” “Sunflower lanyard hijacked”

The sunflower lanyard is to help people with hidden disabilities and who may need additional support for instance at airports or in supermarkets. It was made to be a discreet way to identify those who may need support similar to the sunflower card which shares if you have a disability or impairment.

Hidden disabilities can come with a range of symptoms and diagnosis. According to statistics, 96% of illnesses are invisible, how does this impact the workplace? With an estimate of 14.5 million people in the UK alone living with a form of disability (reported 2019-2020) it is evidently important to make sure the workplace environment is safe and secure for disabled employees as well as create a understanding on how to help.

There often is a concern of social stigma as well as self-stigma with having a hidden disability, “will they notice?” “Will they not hire me when I tell them?” “Will I be treated differently?” “Will they be able to help?” As an employer it is your responsibility to encourage employees to be able to ask for help when needed and have a level of understanding towards the employee. It is up to the employee to choose to disclose this information with you, not disclosing it can lead to hiding their disability which could cause further emotional suffering. If as employers and colleagues, we reduce the social stigma then eventually it could lead to disclosure being common practice.

Examples of how could you change this?

“Darren works in a retail environment and has severe anxiety which can lead to not being able to leave the house for days. Colleagues at work just assume that they are skipping work using sick days.” A way to help. Create a better understanding in the workplace of mental health conditions through training or mental health weeks as way to spread awareness through the workplace.

“Emily has to use the disabled toilet, but it is currently being used by another employee that is only using it due to it being the closest stall and out of convenience. Emily has a hidden disability and is now forced to use the normal stall where she feels like she may face criticism due to having IBS.”

Make employees aware what and who the disabled toilets are for, everyone with disabilities including hidden or even implement signs outside the toilet.

As stated in the equality act every employee has the right to have reasonable adjustments made to their working environment to provide comfort and help employees remain in work. As employers you have a responsibility to provide this.

Main tips to help

· Invest in training opportunities, Equality and Diversity training, MHFA training etc.

· Invest in resources which can be placed in your office space or have signposting to places that can help.

· Allow every employee to feel comfortable to disclose this information with you.

· Create events to help spread awareness such as mental health awareness days/ weeks or hidden disability awareness days. call us on 01935 411 191 or email to speak to one of our consultants about any HR related topic. A member of our consultancy team will be available to help you with any HR, Recruitment or Training queries you may have.


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