A new study finds HR is failing workers with intellectual disabilities.

Professor Timothy Bartram, from RMIT University’s School of Management, says efforts to include people with intellectual disabilities are often tokenistic, and trail far behind progress made on workplace inclusion in terms of race and gender.

“Current human resources management approaches for workers with intellectual disabilities are not working,” Prof Bartram said.

“A lack of appreciation of workers with intellectual disabilities, along with outdated HR approaches are leading to poor treatment, isolation and exclusion for many of these workers.”

While a growing number of organisations employ workers with an intellectual disability, Prof Bartram says this is often being done to fulfil corporate social responsibility obligations, with little thought about how to promote the well-being of these workers or get the most out of them.

Now, new research published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources outlines evidence-based approached that help businesses include these workers to support mutual benefit.

The study focused on what works and does not work in managing workers with intellectual disabilities, including down syndrome or delayed development, at seven Australian organisations: three hotels, a courier company, a film company, a management consultancy firm and a recruitment company.

“Overall, the study highlighted the importance of an organisational culture in which the diverse nature of individuals is recognised, allowing those individuals to share their unique perspectives,” said Prof Bartram.

“Those with intellectual disabilities can often display unique talents and perspectives, such as mathematical, organisation and technical abilities to contribute to organisational performance. But without an inclusive workplace culture, managers struggle to incorporate these people and their unique perspectives into job roles and so are unable to utilise their insights.”

This study recommends more flexible and collaborative approach to designing roles according to what workers can achieve, even if it means reducing their work hours and workloads.

Workplace accommodations, such as modified or quieter work spaces and flexibility for medical appointments, can also help workers with intellectual disabilities perform to their potential, Prof Bartram said.

In relation to job analysis and design, the researchers propose an approach that would incorporate working with each person to craft a flexible job description to the individual instead of the out-of-dated practice of fitting the person to the job and the job description.

Researchers found top-level management were often committed to the inclusion of workers with intellectual disability at a strategy level, however, the cascade of information and support systems can fade at middle and supervisory level management.

The study includes a simple framework to guide HR management practices for improved inclusion of workers with intellectual disabilities.

It is accessible here.