Socialization for Employees With Disabilities

Posted on September 16, 2011 by TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd)

New employees undergo a socialization process in the organization.  Norms, culture, language, and the way in which employees interact with one another are behaviors that are observed by a new employee.  Over time, employees will become accustomed to the way in which employees communicate with one another.  There are instances in which employees do not fit into the social norms of the organization and the results can be negative.  Employees may be labeled as “outcasts” and are not included in social situations within the organization. 

When employees are not accepted socially in his or her workplace, the consequences can be quite negative.  An employee who does not feel accepted by either coworkers or managers will likely fail to perform as well as socialized employees.  Why would this be?  If one does not feel like part of the team at work, the level of self-efficacy or self-esteem that employee feels will be low.  Self-efficacy or feeling that one can accomplish assigned tasks has a great impact on the motivation and performance of an employee.  If someone feels like the outcast at work, it makes sense that his or her motivation will not be at an optimal level.  This employee may feel that there is no reason to perform well because no one in the organization will even notice or acknowledge a job well done. 

The socialization process at a new job can be stressful enough.  What happens when you add in the factor of people with disabilities?  We often tend to forget about this population although there is a large population of people with disabilities today.  The American Disabilities Act also encompasses more conditions than we may initially think to be considered legally disabling. 

Employees with disabilities face more challenging socialization processes in the workplace.  Existing employees at an organization may not understand a new employee’s disability and see the disability as a weakness or differentiation.  And in some cases, employees may try too hard to welcome the new employee with a disability by attempted to assist the employee too much.  Many employees with disabilities feel frustration because they feel capable of completing many tasks that others believe they are unable to.  While employees with disabilities may face different barriers, they are capable of producing quality work just as employees without disabilities. 

Unfortunately, existing employees at an organization tend to have pre-existing beliefs about employees with disabilities.  They may think that an employee with a disability is not capable of the same performance or is not as intelligent.  While all of these assumptions are erroneous, they make socialization for the new employee with a disability difficult and often frustrating.  The employee with a disability may feel he or she has to prove themselves to coworkers and demonstrate that they deserve to be working for the organization. 

Often what can happen in organizational settings with employees with disabilities is quite surprising.  Employees with disabilities have often reported being helped less often.  When you pick apart the reasons this may occur, it makes sense.  If an employee with a disability has a different desk environment custom made for the employee to be able to work, other employees in the office may have negative feelings associated with the environmental differences.  What happens most often in organizational settings is that other employees may feel that the employee with a disability is receiving all these forms of assistance while other employees are not.  Therefore, employees are less likely to aid the employee with a disability because they feel that employee is already receiving assistance from the organization.  I have seen cases in which an employee with a disability used her disability as a crutch to get out of completing certain tasks, but it cannot be assumed that all employees with disabilities participate in this type of behavior. 

What can you do differently in your organization?  If your organization has existing or new employees with disabilities, be aware of your actions.  Try not to avoid assigning tasks to an employee with a disability because you allow the word “disability” to cloud your judgment of what an employee is capable of producing.  Most important, familiarize yourself with the American Disabilities Act.  The more you know about conditions that are covered and why the act was developed, the better you will understand why organizations make the accommodations they do. 


Kulkarni, M., & Lengnick-Hall, M.  (2011).  Socialization of people with disabilities in the workplace.  Human Resource Mangement,4, 521-540. 

Do you think employees with disabilities undergo a more challenging socialization process at work?

TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd)

About TNS Consulting Team (via Scott Spayd)

Great companies know that it takes highly engaged employees to retain customers and make their brand promise come alive. To make the connection between your employees, customers and brand, you need a partner with deep expertise across several areas. Only KANTAR TNS has over two decades of employee survey experience, as well as access to the consultative and research resources of the world’s largest customer satisfaction benchmark database and brand analytics research. Whether you have 200 employees or 200,000, Kantar TNS has the expertise and the advanced measurement, reporting, and follow up tools you need to deliver on your employee and customer brand promise.

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