employedEmployees become less happy as businesses take on more people with disabilities – physical or learning – a study has found, suggesting that the UK’s corporate culture needs to be re-examined.

An in-depth analysis of data from hundreds of UK companies by researchers from the University of Nottingham found that levels of job satisfaction are likely to fall as the number of staff with disabilities increases. But this decline is only among non-disabled workers and exclusively found in the private sector.

Study author Dr Getinet Haile, an assistant professor of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School, said the findings cast doubt on the effectiveness of current workplace disability strategies.

“The fact that only non-disabled workers report lower job satisfaction seems to suggest some form of discrimination,” he said. “But the fact that all the findings relate specifically to the private sector indicates that some sort of cultural or organisational failure may provide a more credible explanation.

“Wherever the blame might lie, it’s clear that the private sector has some distance to go before it can be confident these issues are being dealt with effectively.”

Previous research has focused largely on the disadvantages disabled workers suffer in the employment market and in terms of their earning potential. There has been little study into how their introduction to a workforce impacts on the wellbeing of their fellow employees – whether positively or negatively. 

The research sought to shed fresh light on this question by analysing data from the most recent British Workplace Employment Relations Survey, carried out in 2011.

Containing information representative of every business in the UK with five or more employees, the survey uses a variety of measures to assess job satisfaction.

Dr Haile cross-referenced these with statistics for disabled worker numbers to reveal a “significant” relationship between workplace diversity and workforce wellbeing. “Overall job satisfaction declines as both the percentage of workers with disabilities and the number of disability-friendly policies and practices increase.

“Further analysis shows this decline is confined to workers who aren’t disabled, which raises some serious questions about workplace diversity in the UK private sector.

“In particular, it highlights the importance and urgency of promoting a corporate culture that’s genuinely appropriate to the needs of a diverse group of employees.

“Needless to say, the answer isn’t to somehow shy away from diversity in the workplace. That would simply be to deny the reality of the situation on every level. Instead we need to build on all the good work that’s already been done by informing and designing even better workplace policies and practices to tackle the problem.

“One answer may be more formal training for managers and co-workers to raise their awareness of the value of championing diversity and accommodating all employees.

“Whatever the solution, this represents a wake-up call for anyone who believes issues such as these have long since been addressed and should no longer be of concern.”