Taking on an autistic employee can prove beneficial for an employer due to the range of exceptional skills they can bring to the workplace.
The potential issues lie in difficulties with interacting with fellow staff members, and others’ lack of understanding. As a result, autistic employees may require certain levels of support within a work environment.
Sometimes an autistic employee can say the ‘wrong’ thing to another member of staff, misread social cues, or appear not to want to communicate with them at all. In these cases, employees can often take offence, and it is important to remind them that any offence caused is unintentional and will be due to difficulties with communication, subject to the autistic employee being comfortable about sharing details of the condition.
If this appears to be a persistent problem, it may be necessary to explain to the autistic employee the boundaries where other members of staff are concerned, and also remind employees that their attitude can have a significant impact on their autistic colleague’s work ethic.
Something else to consider is that if the employee seems to be having difficulty with their actual work, and becomes stressed or anxious, this may be down to the environment and not the workload itself or vice versa. In this situation, it is important to communicate openly and compassionately to address any issues the employee might be having, social or otherwise, and swiftly resolve the issue.
From the outset, be clear and thorough in your expectations of the job role, if adaptations need to be made to the job in order to accommodate the employee make sure they are aware that this is to help them do their job well, not that they need special treatment. Provide in-depth training. This can be informal or formal, but must be clear and structured. This also applies to any instructions given during their time at your company, do not infer or imply anything as there is a good chance the employee will not pick up on your meaning.
Timetables and to-do lists are a great way of keeping the workload well structured, as well as set lunch and break times and regular one-on-one reviews. In formal reviews, make sure the feedback you provide is honest and sensitive, but also clear and direct. Do not dance around any potential issues, outline simply and clearly what has gone wrong, and how the issue can be fixed.
Also, make sure the review includes a good amount of positive feedback to balance out the bad. Be aware that autistic people can suffer from sensory distractions. Make sure their workspace is free of any strong sensory inputs, such as bright/flashing lights, consistent loud noises and powerful odours (don’t sit them directly next to a kitchen if your employees are renowned for bringing smelly foods from home).
Finally, make sure both you and your staff are educated and aware of the condition. This will increase understanding and help produce a more positive work environment for both the autistic employee and those who work with them. Training sessions are a great way of getting everybody involved and increasing awareness. As mentioned above always make sure the employee consents to having their condition disclosed before launching into any office-wide training sessions however.
Croner has more than 75 years’ experience of working with businesses on a wide range of HR and employment law issues. We’re here to help your business provide the most positive and compliant working environment for all employees. Contact us on 0808 145 3490.
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