The Real Talent Disabilities at Work

Photo by Xiang Gao on Unsplash

Six million open jobs.


“We can’t find talent.”

Finding enough qualified people who can pass a drug test in a continually tightening job market to fill your constant 300+ job openings.

Continually paying a fortune for recruiting services to deliver people into high-turnover positions. And hoping more than 10% of those recruits who “really want to work” actually show up for the first day of training.

Multi-generational workers with varying priorities and demands companies have to bend over backwards to compete for and cater to.

A rapidly and constantly changing digital landscape companies have to adapt to to reach workers. Who are trying to reach you.

And then there’s culture. Companies focusing more and more on “benefits” to compete for entitled workers, hoping to also keep them focused on what they are actually supposed to be doing at work. Which is working.

At the end of the day, who’s working for who here???

Of course, people are a company’s greatest asset. So it’s worth it, right?

Except when it isn’t.

Some restaurant industry giants pay $30,000,000 per year just to train new employees due to turnover of 85% or more.

Retailers complain how their entry-level workers dump them to earn $0.10 cents more per hour across the street.

Companies hang out $25,000 bonus carrots, claiming they’re desperate to fill jobs most people don’t want to do.

The problems never seem to end. And take a huge chunk out of the bottom, and sometimes the top, line.

There’s got to be a better way, right?

How can this money and time be better spent???

These seem like the real talent disabilities in the workplace to me.

Why are companies suffering talent disabilities? Because they only have one barrel they keep endlessly scraping. Hoping they’ve missed something at the bottom.

Let me tell you a few stories about overlooked talent from a different barrel, chock full of talent whose number one concern isn’t compensation, but the job itself.

Extraordinary worker of your dreams, #1

“Bill” has a permanent movement disorder. Bill was incredibly successful in college, graduating with honors and going on to achieve an MBA in Data Analytics. Showing up for interviews in his motorized wheelchair, many employers couldn’t see past his disability. Bill didn’t gain meaningful employment for three years following graduation, consistent with the 3–6 year average it takes people with disabilities to join the workforce.

Bill worked in jobs far below his ability, and as a result, had trouble building up his resume to compete with people in the main barrel employers were pulling from as time dragged on. Bill never lost sight of his ambitions through all this. Bill has naturally learned to be patient and unwavering as a fact of his life. Great leadership qualities, right?

It’s at this point I got to know Bill. And this is what I witnessed.

Bill interviewed at a small tech company, and was missing one qualification for the job. As soon as Bill learned he’d need this skill, he immediately went home and enrolled in an online course to acquire it. This particular job didn’t materialize because the company decided not to move forward with the position.

At the same time, though, Bill was interviewing with a financial company that has figured out how to attract and recognize talent from the “new” barrel. After three years of being overlooked, Bill got the job and was ecstatic to be working for a company that understood his true value, a company that gave him the treasured first step on a path Bill had been preparing for every day.

What did the company get? The company got someone who is teaching them what extraordinary talent looks like.

Bill’s social activities outside of work are limited to well-planned outings. If you know this, you can understand how important being at work everyday is to someone in Bill’s circumstance. But what does Bill do when he’s not at work, unburdened by social distractions and complexities? A majority of his time is spent figuring out and working towards how to add more value at work! Bill’s life experiences have taught him how precious every moment, every effort is.

If Bill’s next goal is to lead programming team projects, he’s learning programming. His physical limitations make being a programmer impractical, but that’s not the point. Bill knows that to be the best project leader, he’ll need first-hand working knowledge of the disciplines he’ll be facilitating.

Literally almost all his time is spent figuring out how to add value to the company he works for as the means to achieve his own goals. Bill doesn’t clamor for more for himself. Bill doesn’t just expect. He patiently engages and demonstrates to his company how he can add value one roll of the wheel at a time.

Extraordinary worker of your dreams, #2

“Tom” is on the spectrum with the added bonus of a speech disability. Tom also has been extremely successful in school, achieving a Masters in Statistical Programming.

When I met Tom, he sent me an incredibly detailed spreadsheet of all the positions he’d applied for in the last 9 months. All 89 of them. The date he applied, how he applied, the job title and number, the company, the outcome, and so forth.

And with each entry, a comment of why he thought he was rejected for all 89 jobs.

Most employers simply were not prepared for Tom when he came through the door. Unable to see Tom’s true talent, the interview process for all 89 of these companies failed them in gaining an extraordinary talent simply because they did not know how to communicate with Tom. And it was easier to move on to the next candidate.

Tom never got a job. His parents built a non-profit around him and several other individuals like him, outsourcing their extraordinary, collective talent.

This segregation of thousands of people like Tom means that innovation and value will not be built from within the private sector.

Imagine, if you’d gone through 89 interviews, how loyal you’d be to the company that can welcome you and value you for the skills you do bring to their company.

And this is how the real disabilities at work are perpetuated and social gaps widened. Everyone continues to lose.

Extraordinary workers of your dreams, #3.

A business owner once told me his best employee had Down syndrome. And that, “If you can find me more workers like that, I’d hire them!”

And yet, his hiring process wasn’t actively seeking them out, because they didn’t know how. Reacting passively and finding employees like “that” was just dumb luck based on who showed up at the front door.

Workers like “that” is defined as someone who’s been with the company for over 20 years. Doing the same job better than anyone else can do it. Like clockwork. And always smiling while he does it. Automatic.

And when the business owner thought he’d be doing this employee a favor by changing his job to do something “new for a change,” and offering him a raise, this is what happened. The worker confronted the owner in his office after a week and asked him, “Mr. Smith, why did you change my job? Was I not doing a good job? I loved the job I was doing and want to have it back, please.” Even after over 20 years, the company never learned what this employee valued until this moment.

The owner gave him his job back and kept the raise in place. The owner loves telling the story of this “worker revolt.”

The job is the most important thing to this talent.

There used to be a time when people didn’t come into a job acting like the company they worked for owed them everything up front. That the burden was not on the company to prove to the employee that they were worthy of giving them paychecks. It used to be people looking for jobs would approach employers with, “Let me show you what I can do.” And then earned what they received.

There is still a group of talent that places a priority on the job itself.

But the real disabilities at work are keeping employers from connecting to and including these millions of versatile, high-performing, and extraordinary talent. And to the talent of their friends and families who, spanning across all demographics, want to work for companies who believe in what they believe in.

I bet if employers were to describe the perfect employee, the perfect culture, and they heard these stories and thousands others like them, they would quickly realize that people with disabilities would be the closest thing to an ideal workforce. As a matter of fact, it’s a proven business case waiting to scale.

Business as usual is the real talent disability at work.

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