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The overlooked business case for disability hiring

By Nick Wilson | |7 minute read

Disability hiring is often thought of as an act of social inclusion. Though this may be true, it’s important to remember that the business case is equally clear.

In Australia, if you have a disability, you are significantly less likely to be employed, likely to be earning substantially less, and are less likely to work full-time hours. Despite growing awareness around disability in the workplace, the national labour force participation rate has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, making it among the lowest of any Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nation.

Of those who are employed, 45.2 per cent report experiencing unfair treatment or discrimination from their employer in the past year – often resulting in heightened stress and declines in physical or mental health.


To put it mildly, Australia has work to do. Getting it right will not only enfranchise the nearly one in six of us with disability – it also makes good economic and business sense. At the broad economic level, getting Australia into the top eight OECD countries when it comes to disability employment would add an estimated $50 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050.

Similarly, the individual business case for hiring people with disabilities, Jake Majerovic, managing director at thinkless Group, told HR Leader, is clear. Let’s take a look at the business benefits before considering what to keep in mind when hiring people with disabilities.

“Let’s cut to the chase,” Mr Majerovic said before outlining that the majority of businesses are concerned with two things: compliance and costs. The former often amounts to organisations simply meeting their legal obligations in recruitment and operations and doing little else. The latter tells us that, even among leaders with the best intentions, change has to make business sense.

Fortunately, hiring individuals with disabilities can serve both interests.

1. Shortage relief

In a tight labour market, it pays to think creatively in recruitment. This was the central message of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (ACCI) Employ Outside the Box: The Business Case for Employing People with Disability report.

“The cost of labour will become more expensive unless the supply pool can somehow be expanded to include those who have not traditionally been seen as a source of labour,” ACCI said.

Australians with disabilities are among these overlooked cohorts. The National Disability Service estimated that disability employment could fill roughly 15 per cent of the projected labour shortfall caused by the ageing out of the national workforce. People with disabilities are the “largest and fastest-growing minority group in the world,” meaning the case is only growing.

For individual businesses, shortages have meant that hiring is taking longer and is getting more expensive. Broadening the pool of potential job candidates is one way to alleviate these difficulties.

Another is to find new ways to retain existing employees. Studies show that employees with disabilities have a lower turnover rate, suggesting disability employers may enjoy hiring at a lower frequency. As noted by ACCI, “smart employers will seek a reliable supply of labour including people with disability”.

2. Job performance

Despite the many misconceptions about disability and how it might affect job performance, studies show that employees with disabilities tend to perform as well or better than those without a disability. To name a few, studies have established the following business benefits:

  • Increased productivity.
  • Reduced absenteeism.
  • Reduced turnover.
  • Increased team morale.
  • Lower ongoing costs (e.g., lower incidents of workers’ compensation claims).
  • Lower absenteeism.

“By better informing yourself about disability and thinking strategically, you will discover that there is a good business case for employing people with disability,” said ACCI.

“By examining your employment strategy and employing outside the box, you can secure a good supply of motivated and skilled staff, as well as opening the door to new business opportunities.”

3. Culture of diversity

Less quantifiable but equally as important are the cultural and reputational benefits to be gained from effective disability hiring. Research shows that disability employment can boost team morale and make a workforce more innovative and better at problem solving. More than this, though, it can create a culture of diversity and acceptance.

According to research from the London Business School, work teams with disabled employees tend to be more collaborative, enjoy higher levels of psychological safety, work better together, and have a “better general atmosphere”.

Having disabled employees can also add to an organisation’s value proposition – incurring significant reputational benefits. April Lea, co-founder of The Safe Space Collective, recently told HR Leader how having a neurodivergent workforce can confer tangible reputational advantages – often opening otherwise closed doors. Similarly, disability employers are often preferred by customers and employees alike.

When looking to hire individuals with disabilities, ACCI recommends doing the following:

  1. Get information.
  2. Contact experts.
  3. Review existing staff structure.
  4. Good job matching.
  5. Prepare workplace.
  6. Mentor and support.
  7. Evaluate.



Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.


Disability is a persistent condition that limits an employee's capacity to carry out routine tasks. It refers to anything permanent or likely to be permanent, may be chronic or episodic, is attributable to intellectual, mental, or physical impairment, and is likely to require continuous support services.

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson

Nick Wilson is a journalist with HR Leader. With a background in environmental law and communications consultancy, Nick has a passion for language and fact-driven storytelling.