Making it easier for autistic success. Facilitating success for autistic individuals in your working environment necessitates the creation of an accommodating workplace. This can be achieved by recognising and catering to the distinctive needs of each autistic employee. Establishing open lines of communication and maintaining transparency across business operations can ensure that neurodivergent employees feel more at ease, ensuring that they can comprehend their role more easily and align their performance to exceed the company’s expectations.
In this article, we will explore in greater detail how companies can aid their autistic employees to ensure higher workplace satisfaction and reduce both employee turnover and the likelihood of burnout in these individuals.
To cultivate a better understanding and sensitivity towards autism spectrum disorders (ASD), it’s crucial to educate both the workforce and management. Training and educational initiatives can foster a workplace culture that is both well-informed and empathetic.
Additionally, introducing options like flexible working hours and promoting remote working can be highly beneficial. This not only addresses relieving many potential sensory issues but also helps in managing the energy and stress levels of the autistic individual. Remote work can be particularly advantageous for those with concurrent chronic conditions (which are often common in those with ASD), eliminating the mental strain of daily commuting as well as the financial cost associated with daily travel.
It’s also important to embrace clarity in communication, whether through emails, written guidelines, or verbal conversations. Steer clear of vague terminologies and metaphors to ensure the message being given is unambiguous.
Furthermore, refining the recruitment process, such as sharing interview questions beforehand or presenting alternative evaluation techniques, can be of immense help to job seekers on the spectrum. A comprehensive onboarding blueprint can also guide newcomers in assimilating comfortably into the company’s ethos and standards.
1. Foster Clear Communication and Transparent Business Practices
Detailed Briefs: Every task or project assigned should come with a clear, detailed brief. This ensures that autistic individuals have a concrete understanding of what’s expected in both the scope of the task at hand and the deliverables required.
Feedback Channels: Develop open channels of communication where employees can seek clarification without fear of being judged or penalised for asking follow-up questions.
Regular Check-ins: Managers should have regular check-ins to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to address any emerging issues promptly.
2. Increase Awareness and Training
Custom Training Programs: Develop training modules tailored to autism awareness and be willing to engage with experts in the field of autism to guide these sessions.
In addition to this, business leaders and those operating at the C-level may find following neurodivergent disability advocates on social platforms such as LinkedIn to be helpful in improving their awareness. Some notable advocates in this area include the likes of Ellie Middleton, Jennifer Opal, Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, Daniel Morgan Jones & Kanan Tekchandani.
Mentorship Programs: Pairing newer autistic employees with more experienced peers can help ease their transition into the company. It is of vital importance to make sure that new employees who wish to learn quickly are given enough tasks to stimulate their interest in the organisation and their industry.
There are few things worse for new employees than feeling like you are left out of key learning opportunities or feeling that you have been ignored for the first six months of a new role, which can especially be a struggle for autistic employees who may not be given the correct amount of mentoring from senior team members. As autistic employees may especially lack confidence in a new role, there is often an initial need to boost the confidence of the new starters to give them the tools to gain confidence in the workplace.
3. Flexible Work Arrangements
Custom Workspaces: It is important to recognise that lighting, noise levels, and workspace layout can significantly negatively impact autistic employees and their ability to perform their duties (even strict dress codes can increase the severity of sensory issues of otherwise highly productive individuals). Offering adjustable lighting, quiet zones, or even enclosed workspaces can greatly improve the likelihood of deeper focus being achieved.
Ideally, offering remote working as an option would prove beneficial to neurodivergent employees as well as to those employees who may additionally suffer from chronic pain (such as endometriosis & PCOS, which in recent studies has been shown to more often affect autistic individuals in particular).
Task Flexibility: Allow autistic employees to work on tasks during their peak productivity times, which may differ from the traditional 9-5. Workplaces that have flexible core hours and allow employees to make up time around their personal schedules can benefit all employees, especially working parents who need to pick up their children from school or go to additional doctor’s appointments (as an example).
4. Adapted Communication Styles
Use of Technology: Utilise platforms that allow for visual task management. Tools like Trello, Slack, Monday.com, and Asana can all offer clarity on who is performing what task, what next steps need to be taken, and for breaking down large projects into step-by-step tasks.
Consistent Messaging: Ensure all departments use consistent terminology and formats, minimising the chances of misinterpretation. Private messaging between employees can sometimes work against autistic employees if they end up being given too much work that hasn’t been formally agreed on as all next steps should be recorded in the main visual task management tool that the organisation has decided upon.
I know from personal experience that in some organisations that the “personality hires” (those rated high for sociability but are overall low performers) often offload work onto neurodivergent team members and then take credit for their achievements to the Board members.
Visual task management and entirely transparent communication visible on an entire company level, can reduce the temptation for less productive employees to cause neurodivergent employees to overwork themselves and become burned out. Reducing burnout improves the reduction of employee turnover rates throughout the wider organisation for both neurodivergent and neurotypical employees alike.
It is my belief that transparency helps all employees to feel that they are being fully credited for the tasks they perform as well as their achievements resulting as the product of their work.
Written Summaries: After important meetings, provide written summaries to help employees digest and reference the information shared.
5. Modify the Recruitment Process
Job Descriptions: Make job descriptions as specific as possible, outlining clear responsibilities and expectations. As recruitment agencies often edit and exaggerate CVs, make sure to get a copy of the original CV as submitted by the candidates themselves prior to the interview.
Often candidates do not have any idea of what is being submitted on their behalf to the company they are interviewing at which can leave them feeling “set up” by the recruitment agency if they decide to embellish their resume. As they may then later be asked about specific items they themselves did not add to the CV.
Skills-Based Assessment: Instead of traditional interviews, consider task-based assessments that allow candidates to showcase their skills in real time or over a period of a week.
Feedback Loop: Provide candidates feedback after interviews or assessments, helping them understand areas of strength or improvement.
6. Support Systems and Resources
Dedicated Support Teams: Appoint a team or team member responsible for addressing the concerns or needs of autistic employees, ensuring they always have someone to turn to.
Sensory Rooms: If possible, create a sensory-friendly room where employees can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed. This could be a spare meeting room which could be booked out by the individual as and when the space is required.
Resource Repository: Create a resource hub, perhaps on the company intranet, where employees can find articles, videos, and tools related to autism and workplace integration.
7. Regular Feedback and Career Growth
Personalised Career Path: Regularly discuss career aspirations with autistic employees, and design a personalised growth path for them so that they do not feel left behind or overshadowed within their department.
Skill Development: Make sure to offer specialised training or courses that cater to the employee’s unique strengths or interests.
Recognition: It is important to celebrate the successes and milestones of autistic employees, ensuring they feel valued and acknowledged for their achievements within the organisation.
Implementing these measures requires effort, but the return on investment is significant. Autistic employees often bring unique perspectives and according to studies previously conducted, Autistic employees can be up to 140% more productive than their neurotypical peers when paired with the right working environment.
By providing a supportive environment, companies not only benefit from the contributions of additional types of employees but also become champions of a culture of true diversity and inclusivity that often benefits many other employees across various intersections.