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06 Nov. 2014 | Comments (0)

At one point in my life, I was an employee, college student and mother to a very young son. What made it all work was flexibility, especially on the part of my employer. (As I recall, my son was less flexible, but I suppose that’s par for the course with a toddler.) Of course, I was hardly unique. For millions of Americans with complex life situations, workplace flexibility is essential to managing personal and family needs while also delivering on the job.

Traditionally, workplace flexibility has been approached in the context of time and place, meaning when work is performed and where work is performed. And both benefit a wide range of workers, including those of us with disabilities. But, workplace flexibility actually has a third dimension: task, or how work is performed.

The key to workplace flexibility around task is matching employee strengths to employer needs in a way that benefits them both. As a policy strategy, we call this customized employment, and it’s something savvy employers already do for many employees, even if they don’t realize it.

To understand this issue further, last year we in the Office of Disability Employment Policy collaborated with the Families and Work Institute to add questions about workplace flexibility around job task to the National Study of Employers. The NSE is a collaborative effort between FWI and the Society for Human Resource Management (since 2012) as part of its When Work Works initiative.

According to a recently released report summarizing the results of these new questions, which were posed to more than 1,000 employers, flexibility around job task can “help to fulfill requests for reasonable accommodations and create workplaces where such requests are unnecessary, because consideration for the diverse talents and life situations of employees is proactively incorporated into universal work processes.”

This conclusion was affirming, but not surprising. ODEP’s evidenced-based research on customized employment has shown time and time again that workplace flexibility around task is a powerful, universal strategy for increasing workforce diversity, particularly for individuals with complex life situations that employers and others might mistakenly perceive to limit employability. This encompasses (but certainly is not limited to) those of us with disabilities, including significant disabilities.

Given this, workplace flexibility around task—in addition to time and place—can be a useful tool for federal contractors as they work to meet their goals under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, recent updates to which strengthened their responsibilities to recruit, hire, promote, and retain qualified individuals with disabilities. But its benefits extend to any employer interested in fostering a more disability-inclusive workplace. To learn more about how to adopt and implement workplace flexibility policies, employers can use our Workplace Flexibility Toolkit, which centralizes information about workplace flexibility in all its forms, and is a great resource for those new to the topic.

I finished college, and my son is grown now. But I’ll never forget the critical role workplace flexibility played in my life, not only early in my career but throughout it. Today, as the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy, I’m happy to have the opportunity to pay it forward for all workers.


This blog first appeared on The United States Department of Labor blog on 10/02/2014.

View our complete listing of Talent Management and Diversity & Inclusion blogs.

  • About the Author:Kathy Martinez

    Kathy Martinez

    Kathy Martinez is the assistant secretary of labor for disability employment policy. Nominated by President Barack Obama to be the third Assistant Secretary for Disability Employment Policy, Kathleen …

    Full Bio | More from Kathy Martinez


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