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Everyone Has a Role to Play

Nov 21, 2011

Almost a decade ago, I had an informal conversation with a senior HR professional who expressed contempt at performance management models that identified and eliminated the bottom 10 per cent of employees.

“Everyone has to work somewhere,” she said.

The remark caught me off guard — I was surprised an employer would take that stance, especially in the wake of stories we had done where employers had pared off low performers. We ran quotes from the likes of legendary former GE CEO Jack Welch who said, of the bottom 10 per cent: “We’ve got to get rid of them. We don’t want to see these people again.”

So I pushed her on that comment. Why wouldn’t an employer want to get rid of the bottom feeders? Her answer was, essentially, “because everyone has a role to play.” Assuming you’ve done your due diligence in hiring, then clearly these people had some sort of talent worth acquiring. Why toss them out because of poor performance? If the person is a belligerent bully, or stealing from the company, then that’s another matter. But terminating the bottom 10 per cent based solely on performance is a flawed idea, she said. Performance can be fixed, and even an organization full of high performers will still have a bottom 10 per cent.

“Everyone has to work somewhere … everyone has a role to play.”

Those words have stuck with me and I couldn’t help but think of them — albeit in a slightly different context — while editing a story we’re working on for the Dec. 5 issue of Canadian HR Reporter about workers with autism.

Unfortunately, when it comes to workers with disabilities, too many employers choose to take a pass. While they can’t overtly do that — discrimination based on disability will quickly land you in front of a human rights tribunal — it’s easy not to hire somebody simply by choosing a “more qualified applicant.”

Hiring a worker with a disability— whether it’s physical or intellectual — comes with a cost. Accommodation has a price tag attached to it. And it might seem like a hassle, especially at first. But legislation — like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in Ontario — is leveling the playing field. Making buildings and information accessible for customers makes them more accessible for employees too.

Hiring a worker with a disability comes with benefits, too. And those benefits — for the number crunchers out there — quickly overwhelm the costs. Turnover is generally lower, and we all know the hefty price tag attached to that. Earlier this year, we wrote about a Tim Hortons franchise owner who had 28 workers with intellectual disabilities working at six locations. The turnover rate at his restaurants was 35 per cent, much lower than the industry average of 80 per cent.

In the late 1990s, Pizza Hut reported a turnover rate of 20 per cent for workers in its Jobs Plus Program, which was geared towards people with cognitive disabilities. The turnover rate for employees without disabilities? 150 per cent.

It makes sense. People with disabilities feel a certain loyalty to firms willing to give them a shot because, unfortunately, many employers can’t see past the disability.

This isn’t a touchy-feely HR story about “doing the right thing” or being a good corporate citizen. It’s about hiring the best talent, period, to help the organization meet its goals.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. He can be reached at (416) 298-5196 or

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