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Bart Cambré

May 29, 2017

Bart Cambré


Anouk Van Hoofstadt & Benjamin Huybrechts

Too few Belgian companies see the benefits of employees with a mental disability

Human Resources

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For a year and a half, under the collective name of ID@Work (Intellectual Disability at Work), we at Antwerp Management School and HEC Liège conducted research into the inclusion of employees with a mental disability in the NEC. (Normal Economic Circuit) We visited 26 companies presently or formerly working with this type of employee, wrote a white paper on our observations, and questioned over 250 employers through a survey (www.inclusieophetwerk.be) on the topic.

Two researchers with a mental disability joined our team. If we had taken nothing but their qualifications into consideration, they would have never have gotten the job. However, their insight proved to be a vital and enriching part of the investigation, confirming that job matching is a crucial aspect of filling a vacancy.


Employers, and, by extension, all recruitment agencies, employment agencies etc., need to focus on talent, competencies and motivation and match these assets to the right task set. Automated resumé screenings are the first obstacle to the employment of persons with a mental disability in the NEC.

A second obstacle is the resistance to inclusive employment. We ourselves, for example, ran into difficulties with a physician connected to the insurance fund. He refused to approve our researcher with a mental disability for work. Switching insurance funds eventually solved the problem.

A third factor for the low rate of employment of persons with a mental disability in the NEC is the administrative maze which employers must negotiate.

The final hurdle is the lack of knowledge. Our investigation showed that the majority of employers would employ persons with a mental disability as a social commitment. Figures show great willingness to embrace flexibility when it comes to task packages, supervision, work hours, and even investment in personal development. However, test results show that the same surveyed employers do not know which tasks they could assign to persons with a mental disability and that they fear resistance in the ranks and a loss of profitability. Furthermore, they are unsure about which institutions to address for financial public support and how to find the right statute for their employee or mentoring in the workplace.

As business schools, we approach the problem from a management point of view, the main concern being how we can help employers translate their social engagement to the shop floor and tap into an unknown source of motivated and talented employees. Based on our research, white paper and employer survey, we composed the following list of five guidelines to enable the sustainable employment of an employee with a mental disability.

1. Planning

If a personal relationship between the employer and the employee with a mental disability is behind the recruitment, it should be ensured that the relationship does not become strictly a personal initiative of the employer. Staff should be involved in the decision and immediate colleagues of the future employee should be informed beforehand. It will therefore become a shared social engagement and a strategic decision informed by the entire enterprise.

2. Premiums and guidance

It is advisable for employers to seek assistance when they intend to employ a person with a (mental) disability. In Flanders, it is possible to go to one of FeGOB’s 11 specialized education, mentoring and mediation services (GOB’s). In Wallonia, the same services can be found in Aviq, and in Phare, Brussels. All of these services are helpful in obtaining premiums and coaching.

3. Job matching

An awareness of the knowledge and capacities of the employee with a mental disability is necessary. This can be determined through preparatory meetings and/or an internship in the workplace. Compose task packages based on their competences and adapt when necessary.

4. Empowerment

There are many reasons to act differently around a colleague with a mental disability. However, too much tolerance is counter-productive. Every colleague who does not keep to agreements must be set straight. An (overly) protective attitude can lead to the employee with a mental disability avoiding taking the initiative.

5. Network

Liaising with other companies who also employ people with a (mental) disability offers enhancement of expertise and experience. Also consider building a network with parents, social counselors and/or other partners to share information on the employee and his or her achievements. This will come in handy when the period of mentoring by the GOB comes to an end.


Now what?

We are pleased that ID@Work was included in the policy document of state secretary Zuhal Demir. We would like to take the opportunity to encourage the government to simplify the procedures for obtaining premiums and guidance. We are lobbying for changes to financial support for persons with a (mental) disability starting a job.

For example, a person with a claim to an integration allowance is at risk of losing this support the moment his or her income exceeds a certain threshold. We consider this measure to be perfectly reasonable during the time of employment. However, when the employment contract expires, the person has to go through the entire application procedure again. The result is that potential employees will try to limit their work hours to avoid losing their allowance, which in turn is a disadvantage for the employer.

Finally, we need to overcome the fragmentation of guidance organizations. There are dozens of organizations offering coaching, all with particular insights and expertise. Because of competition, the cooperation between these services is at best suboptimal, at worst downright inefficient. As a result, knowledge is wasted.

In conclusion, we’d like to thank the government for actively responding to the demand for a more inclusive job market, the employers for their social commitment and employees with a mental disability for making us aware of their motivation. All talent is desperately needed.

Want to know more about this research project?
Contact Bart Cambré or Anouk Van Hoofstadt.