Help! My employee is neurodiverse
As many as 2.9 million workers across the UK have dyslexia so it is likely your workplace will be neurodiverse, estimates the British Dyslexia Association.
Since the Equality Act of 2010, there has been a significant increase in the level of understanding of dyslexia, including the realisation that it isn’t confined to literacy problems but can affect short-term memory, information processing, spatial skills, motor skills and perceptual skills.
The British Dyslexia Association and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) have reported that misunderstanding in the workplace about the condition can cause:
- Disciplinary and misconduct-led approaches
- Bullying, stress and mental health problems
- Fear and reluctance among employees to disclose their dyslexia
“As an employer we have a duty to remove any barriers a person with dyslexia might face in the workplace,” says Dr Deborah Leveroy, an inclusive learning specialist. She is currently the Neurodiversity and Inclusion Lead at Dyslexia Box, a company that provides assistive technology and reasonable adjustment services to help employers. It aims to help HR leaders learn more about dyslexia and understand what ‘reasonable adjustments’ mean for their workers.
What do I do if my employee feels uncomfortable about disclosing they are dyslexic?
“Ask ‘Do we have a company culture that encourages disclosure?’” advises Dr Leveroy. “Investigate whether members of senior management will talk about their experience with dyslexia. And when welcoming someone into company, make sure they are aware of your neurodiversity policy. Be open about it.
“If an employee does come to you, ask open questions. ‘How does it affect you? What do you need?’ Get that person’s perspective, get their individual experience. Everyone with dyslexia is different.”
Dr Leveroy uses an example of an account manager with dyslexia and visual stress (another specific learning difference which is sensitivity to light); the employee’s strengths are that they can relate to clients, close a sale, bring lots of ideas to the table and enjoys carrying out presentations. But their challenges at work are not being able to concentrate in an open-plan office, finding it difficult to remember what is said during meetings and feeling overwhelmed with large chunks of text in an email.
“Our case study reports that she is getting headaches, which can be a sign of visual stress,” says Dr Leveroy. “Their line manager is noticing it takes her a lot of time to compose emails and reports.”
5 immediate ways you can help
As an employer, there are interim measures you can put into place immediately to help someone on your team with dyslexia. “These are soft adjustments that have little cost, are simple to set up and things you can work out between you and your team member,” says Dr Leveroy.
1 Provide a private, quiet workspace that will make it easier to concentrate on difficult tasks. It could be a breakout space or part of a meeting room. Avoid hot-desking, so that the person can have their own computer with assisted technology if required.
2 Noise-cancelling headphones – these can help with high-focus tasks, as can white noise.
3 “Really think about how you communicate,” says Dr Leveroy. “You could put a verbal meeting in written form as often with dyslexia, a person’s memory can be difficult. In emails, try using bullet points and small paragraphs rather than a wall of text.”
4 Set up templates to help with reports and emails to make the process quicker.
5 Ask your employee what times of the day they work best. Allow them to alter their pattern of hours around this – for example, not working when they are too tired or overloaded in the late afternoon or early evening.
Assistive technology and support such as coaching and training is available for people with dyslexia.
You could encourage your employee to apply for an Access to Work grant, which can help identify what support a person might need at work and go towards funding equipment and human services. (See our detailed story on this: https://www.diversity-network.com/access-to-work/)