Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

Consultation on mental health and employment strategy

Posted by Dave Bath on 2008-04-18

Just after posting about a Danish firm leveraging the above-average skills of folk on the autism spectrum, my in-tray gets an announcement for an inquiry in the same ballpark.

The page on the National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy Discussion Paper contains the terms of reference, the actual draft of the paper, and a template for responses (if not in the “your story in your own words” form).  Closing date is 2008-06-30.

This post will contain some initial thoughts, and I hope readers will sanity check them, and add their own thoughts to help me develop ideas for my intended submission.

Apart from the use of "special skills" discussed in my earlier post, a key employment management issue is the unpredictable nature of the need for time off work.  Whether it is epilepsy that affects me, or things that affect my friends (e.g. bipolar, constant migraines), you cannot say "I’m going to take next Tuesday off because that’s when I’ll be unfit for work".

Similar considerations also apply to those recovering from bouts of stress-induced depression, or even conditions unrelated to mental health such as those in recovery after cardiovascular events or having irregular chemo who must gradually increase workloads, and then rest for a day or two if they’ve pushed it too hard, or a treatment session hits them harder than expected.

In many organizations, general business efficiency improvements (such as use of wikis, email, and teleworking) can make those affected by unpredictable conditions more productive, while at the same time improving the productivity of everyone else in the organization.

Administrative flexibility in the way days away from work are called holidays versus sick leave is also important.

As with the Danish firm, employers should recognize the correlations between creativity and special insight that are extremely useful, with predispositions to various conditions classed is neurological or psychological problems.

I hope that this consultation doesn’t just deal with "make work" jobs aimed at the lowest common denominator for those who have an unusual pattern of competencies and incompetencies, but works on ways to manage those who are "neuro-atypical", "idiosyncratic" and "extremely eccentric" to contribute to the economy in ways that "normal" people can’t.

My thoughts on this aren’t complete, and I’ll post again on this issue, but in the meantime, I’m after other perspectives.

Notes: (my bolding)

  • From the foreword of the discussion paper:
    It is also part of the Rudd Government’s productivity agenda.  We recognise that lifting participation rates beyond their current levels will reduce inflationary pressures in the economy and maintain economic growth rates.  People with disability and/or mental illness have an enormous amount to contribute to society.  Increasing the engagement in the workforce and community life of people with disability and/or mental illness benefits the individuals concerned, their families and the wider community.
    According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), in 2003, Australia ranked: 13 out of 19 countries on the employment rate for all people with disability; lowest of 16 countries on the percentage of people on disability related benefit employed; and highest of 16 countries on the percentage of people receiving disability related benefit who were not engaged in formal work.  More recently, the OECD noted that the employment rate for people with disability is disappointing given the growth of the Australian economy over recent years.
  • From the Terms of Reference:
    The Strategy will provide clear and practical steps that Government can take to:

    • overcome barriers that can make it harder for people with disability and mental illness to
      gain and keep work, in particular:

      • resistance from employers in hiring people with disability;
      • difficulty accessing appropriate transport;
      • the costs associated with managing a disability;
      • the unpredictable nature of some disabilities and illnesses; and
      • achieving skills through education and training;
    • achieve attitudinal change which will ensure that those with disability and mental illness are given the vocational and employment opportunities they deserve;
    • better facilitate and promote employment opportunities for people with disability and mental illness;
    • consider whether welfare rules could be changed to help people with disability and mental illness gain and retain employment;
    • provide national coordination of the efforts to tackle the many reasons why people with disability and mental illness find participation difficult;
    • engage and encourage employers to employ people with disability and mental illness, including:
      • fostering more direct linkages between employers and people with disability and or mental illness; and
      • advocating social firms as a model for employment of people with disability and mental illness and exploring best practice from these firms;
    • engage and encourage individuals with disability and mental illness to pursue paid employment and maximise their opportunities in paid employment; and
    • explore innovative and creative ways to help people with disability and mental illness gain and retain work.
  • "The Surprising Right Fit for Software Testing" (2008-08-14), Harvard Business School Working Knowledge Newsletter on the Danish software testing firm that uses lots (75%) of autism spectrum folk, and has the following quote:

    Techies tend to be idiosyncratically talented. The case “Specialisterne: Sense & Details” is about putting diverse talent where it will be most effective.

    . Another quote’s 2008 Danish IT award for outstanding contributions to IT development:

    "these highly gifted people require special support to get on in society—but via their particular logical skills and sense for precision, they can contribute massively."

    You can order the 20pp study for about US$7 here

  • It’s worth looking at the Blogging Against Disablism Day page and associated links, so that when BADD (2008-05-01) arrives, the posts might stimulate your thoughts for a submission.

2 Responses to “Consultation on mental health and employment strategy”

  1. […] different from the enlighted practices I discuss here (2008-04-16) and here (2008-08-14), about innovative Danish managers and how to get true productivity, and the […]

  2. […] Dave Bath has found another community consultation you might want to write to. […]

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