Since its inception back in 1988, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) has often seemed like a niche event, yet in this current moment, we may need to take a second look at this initiative and recognize that its value may go far beyond its original intention. It can be argued that NDEAM is truly the cornerstone to understanding how businesses can engage a workforce in a new way and develop strategies that entice employees to not only accept a job in an organization but see it as a place where they can grow and thrive over a period of time. Amplifying the need for disability employment as a vital solution to the great resignation, this offers an opening for key stakeholders in talent management, human resources, and beyond to engage further in the nuts and bolts of formulating what the culture of work in the 21st century can look like.
So, let us begin by answering a fundamental question, how can National Disability Employment Awareness Month serve the business community as an essential blueprint for the future of work? To answer this question, it is critical to distinguish the very nuances of employment itself. For many a job was once a place to go and get a paycheck for services rendered. Yet, time has moved on and the very nature of work has expanded, and the definitions have changed. For those in the disability community, the role of work had always served a larger principle. Work provided a feeling of independence, a sense of meaning, and a belief in purpose. Of course, this is not to say that those with disabilities have a monopoly of these feelings, however, it can be argued that this philosophy is part of their very core, and this line of thinking can be traced back across the global movement of Disability Civil Rights where the value of work is so essential to the meaning of who they are and who they want to become.
It is this idea of meaning and purpose that must be highlighted as we discuss the future of work. One of the key reasons for the great resignation isn’t just the coronavirus pandemic, but rather something even more nuanced and complex. The workforce of the 21st Century made up of Millennials and Generation Z have a very different stance from the words uttered by Nobel Prize Economist Milton Friedman who stated that “That there is one and only one social responsibility of business- to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long its stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition…” It seems that this belief is having some real pushback and will soon be relegated to the annals of history. Today, the social value of not only work, but the purpose of the organization itself is taking a different tone. Corporate leaders must begin to rethink strategies on how to not only attract employees but to solve the puzzle of the great resignation by emphasizing the importance of retention and shaping a business culture that values its employees and the organizational mission. It is here where the significance of National Disability Employment Awareness Month can offer a resolution and provide a bridge to a greater understanding of both a generational change and culture change within the world of work.
As the culture of work continues to evolve, one of the most critical questions executives must solve is equating meaning and purpose as essential instruments in the toolbox of business for the 21st Century. It is here where these business leaders can look to the disability playbook to ascertain the importance of work, and this also can serve a dual role in the process by elevating the lived disability experience in the world of work while emphasizing the need for the value and power of this pool of human capital.
Finally, another element that needs to be broached at the crossroads of disability, employment, and solving the puzzle of the great resignation is the importance of mental health in the world of work and its direct link for employees finding meaning and purpose. This Sunday, October 10th is World Mental Health Day which highlights mental health awareness and advocacy. Due to the stressors of this changing world of work underscored by a global pandemic, the role of mental health and mental fitness are key features for the world of work of the present and future. As the workforce continues to search for greater meaning and purpose, they want to feel supported by their organization. Shaping mental health strategies across the corporate milieu are fundamental for employee engagement, retention, and long-term growth of any organization.
There are several moving parts in this moment of change, yet to effectively reflect and rethink how organizations want to engage the future of work, embracing the disability ethos and seeing meaning and purpose as more than just ambiguous ideals, but concepts that can be actualized and applied are essential in serving a competitive advantage for the future of business evolution.