Employees with Disabilities: SHRM-Cornell Survey Shows Steps to Retain and Advance


The key to retaining and advancing disabled workers is to have in place a disability-focused employee network—such as an employee resource group or affinity group—say the 54 percent of human resource professionals who ranked the practice “very effective.”

The findings are included in part three of the three-part joint survey released by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the Cornell University ILR School Employment and Disability Institute (EDI), under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR).

The findings show:

  • In addition to the 54 percent of HR professionals who ranked “very effective” creating a disability-focused employee network, another 20 percent ranked it “somewhat effective”;
  • Nearly      half—49 percent—of HR professionals ranked “very effective” the practice of having a return-to-work or disability-management program for employees who experience a work-related absence due to illness, injury or a disabling condition. Another 36 percent ranked it “somewhat effective”; and
  • Roughly 47 percent of HR professionals ranked “very effective” their organization’s encouraging flexible work arrangements for all employees, e.g., flextime, part-time, and telecommuting. Another 37 percent ranked it “somewhat effective.”

Also notable is the data specific to the career development of workers with disabilities:

  • Nearly five in 10—or 47 percent—of HR professionals ranked “very effective” having a structured mentoring program to support employees with     disabilities. Another 31 percent ranked it “somewhat effective”; and
  • Closely following are 46 percent who ranked “very effective” offering special career planning and development tools for employees with disabilities. Roughly one-third, or 31 percent ranked the practice “somewhat effective.”

“It is critical that management be provided the insight and tools to in turn create real career opportunities for workers with disabilities,” said Susanne M. Bruyère, Ph.D., CRC, professor of disability studies, and director of the EDI at the Cornell University ILR School.

The findings show that only nine percent of organizations represented in the survey include in senior-management performance appraisals the progress toward retention and advancement goals for employees with disabilities.

“Don’t forget basics and don’t make assumptions—be sure supervisors know where to find needed information about specific accommodations when an employee with a disability inquires,” said Bruyère.

Nearly one in five—23 percent—of HR professionals said a supervisor’s knowledge of what accommodations to make can be a barrier to retaining and advancing employees with a disability.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India.