In Oct 2017, I joined a relatively unknown Australian Disability Enterprise, Ability Works in Melbourne, as CEO. I was surprised to find how with minimal resources, staff skilfully managed a workforce of 130, with complex physical and mental health support needs. Not many workplaces provide mental health support to their workforce, despite one in five Australian employees reporting mental ill health in a 12 month period. At Ability Works it has been occurring for 55 years, with the organisation having built a reputation for adeptly managing people with complex support needs.
It is the first time in my working career, that I have been able to observe an organisation truly place its employees at the centre of decision making. Whether modifying manufacturing equipment for vision impairment, spending time upskilling a person to reach their potential, empathetically working with someone displaying challenging behaviours or jointly working on an individual’s 12 month employment goals; the team respectfully deals with numerous challenging situations every day.
I was intrigued that we naturally do this for people with a disability as we perceive them as vulnerable. But are we all not worthy of this support?
Simon Sinek, author of the best-sellers `Start with Why’ and `Leaders Eat Last’ says “serving employees needs first creates competitive advantage”.
With its origins in disability, a person centred approach could be a model for all organisations. If all organisations adopted the model, we would likely have richer and more inclusive workplaces.