Thursday, February 27, 2014

Overcoming the Multi-Tasking Bias of Employers in Hiring

In my previous post, commenters noted the benefits of my proposed supported employment process of Plan-Match-Support, but worried about a commonly reported hiring issue - the preference of employers to hire a person who can do multiple tasks. This perception can throw a roadblock into hiring a worker with a disability who might be considered capable of completing fewer kinds of tasks than others.

Let’s analyze the situation closely. First, it’s important to acknowledge that we have no research evidence on employer hiring preferences when workers with disabilities are in the equation. We have only studies of general employer attitudes toward hiring people with disabilities, and the anecdotal reports of job developers.

Unfortunately, this means that our understanding of employer thinking here is weak. It also means that if a job developer hears an employer say, “No thanks, I have a candidate who can perform more tasks,” we have no way of knowing how that actual job development process was performed to that point. Nor do we know how the job developer reacted. We also don’t know whether the employer has been educated about a specific job applicant with a disability, or whether the employer has had previous experience with workers with disabilities.

Why are these factors so important? Simply saying employers prefer multi-task-capable applicants oversimplifies the issue. Everyone would prefer Superman over Clark Kent in theory, unless you happen to just need a good reporter. For example, several research articles have found that employers who had previous positive experiences with workers with severe disabilities actually reported more favorable attitudes toward hiring individuals with severe disabilities in the workplace, despite any comparisons to multi-tasking candidates.

The comfort level with the job developer, and his or her credibility, also can influence decision-making. And most importantly, the employer personally meeting and assessing the skills of the job applicant with the disability can be crucial in overcoming bias, rather than considering a pitch about a “theoretical” applicant with a disability (thus increasing the probability of a discriminatory stereotype). And finally, the notion that workers with disabilities can’t expand their skill repertoire with training, accommodation, and support is wrong.

Further, the notion of multi-tasking actually can be detrimental to business performance. Recent studies of workers performing numerous tasks found that all performance suffers when trying to do too many things, not to mention increasing everyone’s stress level.

So, yes, the multi-task hiring preference can present job development issues, depending on the employers’ experiences (or lack of) and bias. But it can be mitigated by how the job development process occurs, and how well we educate employers about real productivity, the benefits of a diverse workforce, and the process of talent matching, a concept I will talk about in a future post.

The reality is that when workers with disabilities are well-matched to tasks that need completing, those tasks are completed reliably and productively. This is the most salient factor in hiring, whether those tasks represent all the business tasks or not. And there are many other non-task contributions workers with disabilities make to the workplace as well. How well we develop our employer engagement so that we overcome any multi-task hiring bias is key.

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