Feedback plays a vital role in helping all employees, including those with disabilities, advance in their careers.
Performance management is an important component of helping workers develop their skills and advance in their careers. It lets employees know what they are doing well and what to improve. Performance management should be part of an ongoing conversation between the employer and the employee.
“Establishing and applying performance standards uniformly allows employers to consistently evaluate employees and readily identify and respond to performance issues.” – Tracie DeFreitas, Job Accommodation Network
All employees, including those with disabilities, need feedback both when things are going well and when there are performance issues. Too often, managers exclude employees with disabilities from honest performance management discussions, because they are uncomfortable or worried about violating disability-related laws or regulations. This puts employees with disabilities at a disadvantage because they are not receiving the same kind of feedback as their peers.
Planning for Performance Management
Every employee needs some basic information to succeed on the job. Employers can provide this information when onboarding a new employee and when new tasks or duties are assigned.
Performance expectations related to the position
Employers should have the same performance expectations for people with disabilities as they do for all other employees. Employees with disabilities should be expected to meet the same quotas for production, sales or other measurements of success or achievement used in your industry. Read the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) “Applying Performance and Conduct Standards to Employees with Disabilities” and the Job Accommodation Network’s (JAN) performance and production standards page to learn more.
Make sure that your organization clearly lays out performance expectations for all employees. Keep in mind that employees with disabilities may ask for an accommodation to help them meet their performance goals. If that happens, managers should allow some time for the accommodation to be put in place and the employee to adjust to it.
Behavioral expectations of the organization
Managers should identify clear behavioral guidelines to help ensure employee success. There are many unwritten rules in the workplace. For example:
- What is the dress code?
- Are there approved start and end times to the workday?
- What are the rules around taking a lunch break?
- What does good meeting etiquette look like at your organization?
- How do employees share new ideas?
Figuring out these unwritten rules is never easy for new employees and may be particularly difficult for many employees with disabilities, especially neurodivergent employees. Review behavioral expectations in your onboarding process and go over these rules and expectations with all staff at least once a year.
Setting achievable goals for the employee
Employees usually want to know if they are doing well at work. Setting goals for employees can take away some of the mystery around whether they are meeting expectations. “Did I meet my goals?” then becomes a much easier question for them to answer. Goals can be:
- Related to specific tasks, such as, “I need you to submit a report detailing interactions with a client within two weeks;”
- Part of a daily or weekly workload, such as, “I need you to answer and resolve 100 customer service calls by the end of the week”; or
- Long-term, such as “I need you to work on your client relations skills as represented by customer satisfaction scores.”
Whatever the goal, be sure the desired outcome is clear.
Providing Ongoing Feedback
Managers should also provide ongoing feedback to their employees. Let employees know, with specific language, when they do well, or how they might approach a situation in a better way for next time. This type of feedback helps workers understand how they are performing.
Too often, managers do not give people with disabilities the benefit of ongoing feedback. This may be because they are worried about raising sensitive issues, potentially violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or simply because they are just not as comfortable with employees with disabilities. However, a lack of ongoing feedback puts employees with disabilities at a disadvantage. Feedback allows all employees to adjust focus to meet performance expectations, collaborate with coworkers more effectively, and correct behavior that is not helping them meet their work goals.
Performance and Disability
How should a manager approach a performance issue when an employee’s disability may influence the issue?
- Focus on concrete information. State the performance issue as it occurred. Do not mention ideas about why it may have happened. For example, “You did not submit your report by the 4 p.m. deadline.”
- Ask for input on the performance issue. After stating the concrete performance issue, ask the employee why the event occurred. For example: “You did not submit your report by the 4 p.m. deadline. Can you help me understand why this happened?”
- Ask how you can help. The final step in this conversation is to find out what support the employee requires to ensure it does not happen again. For example, “You did not submit your report by the 4 p.m. deadline. Can you help me understand why? What can I do to support you going forward so that this does not happen again?”
In some cases, an employee will mention a disability-related reason for the performance issue. Managers should consider this as disability disclosure. When an employee discloses a disability, the manager should start the interactive process to identify a reasonable accommodation. If this happens, share information about the reasonable accommodations process with the employee, and make sure to connect them with the appropriate staff member and organizational resources to move the request forward.
All employees, including those with disabilities, should have equal access to feedback from managers. Effective performance management not only allows employers to address any barriers employees may be experiencing in achieving goals and meeting organizational expectations, but also ensures that employees can grow and thrive in their careers. Managers must be educated about communicating effectively with people with disabilities so there are no barriers to meeting performance goals. Also, be sure all managers are aware of policies and practices around workplace accommodations, so that if an employee discloses a disability during a performance discussion, the manager can easily move that request forward.