Managing “the Whole”

Yang-Tan Institute researching work, life, disability “balance”
Thursday, June 9, 2016

How do employees with disabilities effectively manage work-life negotiations?

How can employers best create a positive working environment that helps balance work, life and disability management?

The Yang-Tan Institute Work-Life Balance and Disability Study is one of the first to specifically investigate how workers with disabilities balance work and life domains such as family, leisure and self-care, said LaWanda Cook, the project’s principal investigator.

“We’re looking at how workers with disabilities manage ‘the whole,’” she said.

“As a group, individuals with disabilities enter the workforce later and leave it sooner than people without disabilities. Often, this is due to the extra effort employees with disabilities need to engage in order to effectively manage work and life,” Cook said.

“We want to learn more about what workers and employers can do to support effective work-life management and to extend the employment longevity of individuals with disabilities.”

Preliminary findings from the study show that workers with disabilities attempt to reduce work-life conflict through strategies such as time management, family support, leisure and wellness-related activities.

Funded by a three-year, $600,000 grant from the National Institute of Disability and Independent Living Rehabilitation Research, the Work-Life Balance and Disability Study began in 2013.

Since then, nearly 500 currently or recently employed people with a range of disabilities have participated in a survey and in focus groups. Institute researchers Val Malzer, William Erickson and David Filiberto, along with Assistant Professor Beth Livingston, are members of the ILR team conducting the research.

Survey results suggest that employees with disabilities might be dealing with more workplace discrimination than their colleagues without disabilities.

Twenty-three percent of survey respondents reported experiencing harassment or discrimination in the past year, and many referred to these experiences as having been “bullied.”

This finding suggests that workers with disabilities may be more likely to be bullying targets than the general worker population, as only seven percent of respondents to the 2014 Workplace Bullying Institute Survey reported being bullied in 2013.

Some respondents in the Work-Life Balance and Disability Study indicated being harassed or discriminated against for reasons other than disability. Those reasons include age, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and gender, highlighting the need for employers to be sensitive to all types of diversity when designing and implementing workplace policies and practices, Cook said.

Further, these respondents’ experiences suggest that employees with intersecting, marginalized identities may have a particularly challenging time finding support in the workplace, she said.

Employers have an important role to play in creating a positive work environment for their employees, regardless of whether the employee’s disability is visible or not, according to the study.

Both qualitative and quantitative findings from the study indicate that the quality of one’s work life is generally enhanced by positive supervisor support. High supervisor support may also reduce the likelihood that employees facing high work-family conflict will choose to leave the organization.

However, supervisor and organizational support appear to have no significant effect on buffering family-work conflict, possibly because supervisors and organizations have little ability to directly assist employees in fulfilling roles and responsibilities in their personal lives.