Top 6 reasonable adjustments that any manager can make, office edition.
When I first started working with neurodivergent people. I had lots of questions, how do I approach people? What if I say the wrong thing? What does it all mean? There were no qualifications or courses to take in this fast-moving area. An online search showed me that there were lots of different websites with differing information, which added to the confusion. I made it my mission to work through all of that and figure out what was really going on.
In time I came to understand the terminology and how best to approach people but these were not the things my neurodiverse clients were worried about at all. They were worried about being able to get to work on time or being able to focus when they had to work in an open plan office, or trying to fit in and do their job the best they could.
The solutions to the issues that my clients were having in the workplace often seemed straightforward and simple to implement. Many of the solutions did not have any cost and were really helpful. The top 5 changes that can be made in any office environment are listed below. The best thing is that these suggestions not only help neurodiverse people but anyone that may have issues with key executive function areas.
1. Give a deadline – how many times have you said, can I have that by close of play (COP)? Or ASAP? These are not real deadlines – sure we will need things urgently from time to time – but not ALL the time. For many with a neurodevelopmental disorder, time can be a real issue, they can have what is called Time Blindness meaning that they don’t notice time passing. To combat this, they may often schedule and prioritise intensively What may seem like a quick and reasonable request by you, can set them back by a long time. So please – set a deadline on most occasions or at least give a sense of how urgent the task is when requesting it.
2. Work from Home – I am noticing through my clients and the media that many companies would prefer their staff to work in the office. They say it fosters teamwork, which can be true, but we have spent the last 3 years devising ways to foster teamwork online. For the neurodivergent, focus and concentration can be very difficult, and working from home can make all the difference. Often in a workplace, people need to talk to each other or take phone calls and this is impossible to filter out. For people with ADHD, they do not have that part of the brain that filters out background noise when they need to concentrate. Noise cancelling headphones work very well but aren’t always foolproof so please consider allowing people to WFH at least some of the time.
3. Be clear what your email policy is – we live in the age of the written word. We post on social media in writing, we text, and we email. Boy, do we email! I am old enough to remember a time when we used to pick up the phone to for quick queries, but now we email, and we cc everyone in on it. The trouble is, for someone with a processing issue a ‘quick email’ may actually take 30 minutes or more to read, process and respond to, making the onslaught of emails extremely taxing. To make this easier for everyone, make it clear to your staff what your company policy is. It can include things like the email style e.g., be concise, include bullet points to make your points easier to read, state any action clearly and be clear what the response time should be. I work with people who get hundreds of emails a day and trying to respond to them all by the end of the day and is burning them out. Once we had dug out the email policy which usually states 48 hours or 2-3 working days, they became much less anxious. If you have noticed your team tends to respond quickly to emails, is it because they are efficient or anxious? Check in with them and make sure they understand the email policy.
4. Have a Do Not Disturb process – this is so easy to implement and can really help anyone that has to focus on something in the office. This usually looks like putting an item on top of the monitor so others can see it and it tells everyone, please don’t disturb me right now.
5. Normalise the use of support equipment – I have clients that have received equipment from the government grant known as Access to Work. Some equipment you don’t really notice such as computer software like Read Write or Claro Read. Some is visible such as Dragon Software as you wear a headset that you speak into. I have had clients who haven’t wanted to wear their headsets as colleagues ask about it or make comments. Their managers tend to get them to organise the implementation of the equipment and there can be issues through IT with delays in getting the software on the machine. If someone in your team needs the equipment, please support them and discuss how this will be implemented so they – the person with a processing problem – doesn’t have to do it all on their own. You could have a team meeting or make your team aware that it is needed to help with their work. The equipment isn’t a nice to have item, it is essential for them. It is the same as someone wearing glasses to help them see better. If anyone has any questions you can ask them to direct them to you.
6. Get some help – It might seem obvious but help everyone to be aware of neurodiversity by providing training. Offering coaching to neurodiverse team members can help them develop strategies to overcome any barriers they may be facing. Talk to 3SC! We’ve trained lots of teams and coached over 1200 neurodiverse people in the workplace. So we are pretty good at it and we are always happy to help. Teams made up of a wide range of neurotypes are 30% more productive, more creative and make less errors.
We see the term adjustment and we think it sounds difficult or expensive. It really doesn’t need to be, it can be free, and it can make all the difference, not just to the neurodiverse but to all employees.
Sarah Bridgeman, Neurodiversity Coach, 3SC