Workplace experience of federal employees living with disabilities
According to 2021 Best Place to Work in Federal Government® rankings produced by the Partnership for Public Service and Boston Consulting Group, employee engagement and satisfaction scores for people with disabilities are 59.5—6.7 points lower than their counterparts1.
Even though data suggests that the representation of people with disabilities in the federal government has increased of late, this finding indicates that this group has an overall different experience working in the federal government than their peers.
Recently, we hosted a LinkedIn Live panel discussion, “Disability Inclusion and Accommodation in the Federal Government.” This blog post further explores this topic and provides tips for agency leaders to improve the workplace experience of people with disabilities.
Notably, people with disabilities offered more negative responses than people without disabilities across all the Best Places to Work rankings’ workplace categories. Based on the 2021 rankings, the largest differences were in the “Innovation” category, which assesses employee perceptions of efforts to improve the way work is done—a 7.0 point gap—followed by the “Recognition” category, which examines the extent to which employees feel recognized for their performance and innovative contributions to their workplaces—a 6.9 point gap.
These results align with research on the private sector workforce conducted by Global Disability Inclusion and Mercer. According to a survey of more than 12 million employees in the United States, employees with disabilities are more subject to micromanagement, which deters employee innovation, and receive less recognition than their peers without disabilities.
On the other hand, the smallest gaps emerged in the “Performance” categories. People with disabilities provide lower scores than their counterparts by 2.9 points when evaluating the performance of their agency. When evaluating their work unit performance, people with disabilities provided lower scores by 3.1 points than their counterparts.
At the agency level, our analysis found that people with disabilities had lower employee engagement and satisfaction scores than their counterparts in 37 out of 40 agencies included in the 2021 Best Place to Work rankings.2 The opposite was true in only three agencies: the Small Business Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and AmeriCorps. The employee engagement and satisfaction score for people with disabilities was highest at the National Science Foundation—an 85.7—and lowest at the Department of Justice—just 43.4.
Tips for agency leaders
These figures clearly show an employee experience gap between people with and without disabilities.
What can federal agencies do about it?
The Partnership and Boston Consulting Group’s June 2022 LinkedIn Live panel discussion, “Disability Inclusion and Accommodation in the Federal Government,” provided some answers. The discussion yielded the following insights for agency leaders:
- People with disabilities may require multiple and varying accommodations throughout their career. While accommodations are often viewed as “special treatment,” staff with disabilities still have the same job expectations placed on them as their peers without disabilities. It is not just a law but a civil right to guarantee that people with disabilities have the requisite resources and tools to succeed in the workplace.
- Federal agencies need to provide significant training around the Americans with Disabilities Act and normalize conversations about how to better engage people with disabilities in the federal government. Currently, the burden of educating staff and leadership about accommodation needs for employees with disabilities falls on employees with disabilities themselves. Human resources should take proactive steps to educate all staff about creating an inclusive work environment that embraces the accommodation needs of these employees.
- Good inclusive practices mean making underrepresented groups the primary focus of support or development to ensure they have the same opportunities or protected rights as their peers. Using these practices for people with disabilities would help build a better workplace for both other marginalized groups and all employees. When staff with disabilities succeed, it leads to the success of the entire team and the organization.
1 Our analysis is based on 42,720 employees who identified themselves as people with disabilities—and 224,093 employees who identified themselves as people without disabilities—on last year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.
2 Because of privacy issues, the Office of Personnel Management does not provide data for demographic groups that do not have a sufficient number of respondents. Also, agencies that conduct their own employees surveys did not provide demographic group information. Thus data for people with disabilities are unavailable for 31 out of 71 large, midsize and small agencies included in the rankings this year.