Accessibility and hidden discomfort at work

As part of this month’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) focus, we’ve been discussing accessibility and its impact on workplace comfort – with the caveat that our understanding of ‘comfort’ is limited to our own and immediate group experiences.

‘I am only disabled in the world you have created.’

The above sentence really struck a chord with me. There have recently been some incredible examples of new or improved products that have been developed with – and for – disabled people, such as the Tommy Adaptive line. To enable the further development of such inclusive concepts, harnessing a truly accessible workplace is essential.

Accessibility can typically be thought of as a physical or practical constraint someone contends with – visual, motor/mobility or auditory. And it is right for those constraints to be a core focus as shared spaces evolve. But accessibility can also be hidden, leading employees to experience discomfort. For example: a lively, open workspace can foster a positive atmosphere and create a sense of togetherness, but for some it can lead to sensory overload.

At Incite, our office has been carefully designed for physical accessibility. From the building entrance to navigation in the shared space. We also have a toolkit that can be actioned for neurodivergent team members, co-workers and clients that includes noise canceling headphones and fonts to use.

At a micro level, we can impact change. But we recognise that there are broader problems at play in the Marketing industry that need to be addressed, such as the effect of today’s ‘always on’ culture.

“Having an all-or-nothing focus functionality means some hours will be very productive, whilst others might need to be spent working on less challenging and repetitive tasks. However, for this balance to work well, I need to minimise distractions and interruptions. Today’s expectation of instant responses can be a real challenge and drive unnecessary stress, especially at a junior level, when you don't have the experience to assess which truly requires speed of action.”

Ariane Julia

To counteract this, we now encourage employees at Incite to include a short sentence in their email signature that acknowledges our respect for flexible working and as such, response times may vary.

Another lesser-considered area of accessibility is the internalised experiences and backgrounds which inform who we are, how we receive information, and our capacity as humans to feel comfortable and accepted in the environment we are in.

“As someone from a single-parent ‘working class’ background, I have found myself in an industry which has not always felt that accessible to me. It is no fault of any one individual or organisation, more a cumulative sense of swimming in unfamiliar waters at times – often driven by the subtle assumptions people make which might jar with my sense of who I am and where I come from. Statistically speaking, only 2% of the UK residents go skiing per year. So perhaps let us not assume all our colleagues will relate to our ‘You know when you’re on that difficult slope…’ trope. It is also worth saying, skiing is (I am told) fun and a totally reasonable pastime. It is just not necessarily the ubiquitously shared experience one might think.”

Sam Mallett-Thomas

It is important that we as an industry acknowledge these types of discomfort exist, and do more to ensure that every person our businesses touch feels seen and heard.

It goes without saying that to accurately assess and make the necessary accessibility adjustments, we must first increase our diversity, equity and inclusion practices. Though we can never account for 7 billion perspectives, we must recognise that if most decisions are made by a homogeneous subgroup, we are bound to leave some feeling a sense of discomfort and isolation.

Here are some of the questions we’re asking ourselves at Incite, and encourage you to do the same:

  • What are the tension points and stressors which leave some feeling discomfort in our workplace or whilst participating in the research we conduct?
  • How conscious are we of the invisible and lesser discussed sources of discomfort and inaccessibility, and how can we do more?
  • Who are we not representing or including as employers and in our work?

As we move forward with open hearts and minds, we are also making changes as a business:  

Flexible working: We have core working hours to enable a better work/life balance. This allows for stress-free child drop off/pick up, a pre-work workout that doesn’t start at 6am, and overall, for our workforce to adapt their working hours to suit their individual lifestyle.

We trust our team to get the job done out of sight, and though we love to spend time together, we’re not putting pressure on anyone to return to the office full-time.

Equal opportunity employer: Most job openings in our field will highlight the need for a bachelor’s degree. At Incite, we’re moving beyond the ‘has’ or ‘has not’ mindset. There are many skills beyond academia that make for a great market researcher.

We are just scratching the surface of embedding more inclusive and accessible practices, both as an employer and as researchers. And we still have many unanswered questions. So, if you have made some adjustments within your business that have helped alleviate discomfort within your workplace, or have any respectful and accommodating data collection tips, please get in touch.