“Employees with Down syndrome are a particularly interesting topic of research as they have a number of characteristics that both increase challenges associated with inclusion and bring added benefits to an organization.”– McKinsey & Company
According to BBC, Down syndrome individuals are struggling to find work. It shows that fewer than 20 percent of those of working age are in employment. Sara Pickard, a Down syndrome employee, as interviewed by BBC said that “public doesn’t know about Down syndrome.” Even, some people seem scared of those with the condition. “They are seeing someone who is different and (project) their own stereotypical view,” she added. They are often “badly labelled” which can be difficult to overcome. Consequently, some companies are reluctant to hire employees with Down syndrome simply because they don’t know how to overcome the challenges.
According to McKinsey, the first challenge companies face when hiring and retaining people with disabilities is access to where they will work. Second challenge is the fact that companies are not prepared to provide these people with everything they can offer. Moreover, people with intellectual disabilities tend to be more complex to deal with. By and large, business environment is not prepared for employees with limitations in logical thinking, memory, and communication. They require more time and effort to train, and must be monitored more closely. Additionally, they are less independent within work environment.
Nonetheless, McKinsey study on Down syndrome recorded that there are a number of organisations that hire people with disabilities and learn how to deal with their characteristic under specific legislation. For example, 1.8 percent Japanese companies with over 56 employees have the right legislation to hire people with disabilities. 1.5 percent to 2 percent of company in China also has the legislation of working with disabled employees. Additionally, some companies that take initiative to hire people with intellectual disabilities have found that these very characteristics can add value to their organisational health. Despite the problems, these companies recognise intangible advantages of having Down syndrome people in their workplace.
Working enhances quality of life people with Down syndrome as they can develop new skills, social relationship, acquire technical knowledge and develop more personal independence. Corporate environment and tasks performed can contribute towards collaboration, respect and independence. People with Down syndrome recognise this importance of work in their routine. It, thus, gives working-age Down syndrome a sense of social inclusion.
Likewise, companies also benefit as Down syndrome employees generally have characteristics that foster positive reactions in workplace which can contribute to better organisational health. Their unique characteristics can drive other employees to work alongside with Down syndrome colleagues on a daily basis, such as seen in picture below.
© McKinsey & Company study
According to McKinsey measurements, there are five of nine dimensions that can be impacted by employees with Down syndrome. These are: leadership, external orientation, motivation, culture & climate, and coordination & control.
The presence of employees with DS can give their coworkers a new view of world, especially their direct supervisors. They believe that people with DS help others develop virtues such as patience and tolerance. As a result, they become better able to handle adversity and meet various demands of team members and clients. Many managers found that they change the way they leas, shifting from an authoritarian to a more participative model.
“You have to learn how to handle difference. It is different with him, you end up learning how to solve things in a much more easy-going way.” – Store manager, pharmacy chain
There will be a change in external orientation when you have DS employee working with you. It is explained in the study that there is a direct link to customer perception and satisfaction. Elements such as customer service and concern for society improves in work environments where people with DS are present. Given that, in only a very few situations customers are unwilling to deal with a person with disabilities, employees and managers believe the interaction between people with Down Syndrome and business clients to be very successful. Their simple and direct way of communicating, and the empathy they typically display, seem to be very much appreciated by the public.
“Our person with DS is not good with her hands, but she is very good at dealing with customers. She is the poster-person for our store. Everyone in the neighbourhood knows her.” – General Manager of a supermarket chain
It is noted that employee with disabilities in a working environment does perform tasks and overcome challenges in a quite good way which makes the rest of team think about how they can overcome their own limitations and exceed expectations. McKinsey survey shows that 78 percent of respondents believe that inclusion of people with DS in workplace has a positive impact on motivation in workplace.
“I feel motivated when I look at her. She has problems, yet she has achieved a lot.” – Clerk at a pharmacy chain
88 percent of respondents agree that having people with DS in company had a positive impact, making relationship between collaborators more reliable and transparent. DS employees also seem to make workplace more united and collaborative. Additionally, there is a better perception of culture and climate in organization that employs Down syndrome people, compared to those that do not employ.
Working with Down syndrome helps leaders develop conflict resolution skills. The novel situations that arise from working them, such as asking questions of the manager in the middle of serving a client, help them acquire a resilience they did not have before. These leaders added that the skills they acquired are not limited to handling employee with DS, but extend to other employees and clients as well.