The best team performances hinge on human differences being effectively managed, and managers who truly understand neurodiversity will find the superpower in every employee, writes Support to Win CEO Julie Mills.
Writing about the special qualities offered by neuro diverse people and sharing my experiences and passion for neurodiversity (ND) has led to many conversations on the subject. Many people want to better understand their neurodivergent colleagues, while some feel that they may even be ND themselves. A common question is, ‘does ND include dyslexia?’. The answer is yes, and much more besides. But these labels may be misleading and create misunderstandings in the workplace that can be detrimental to both individuals and organisations unless addressed with flexibility and understanding.
For example, dyslexia is classified as a ‘learning difficulty’, but dyslexic people have no learning difficulties. They simply process written words differently which creates challenges when reading and spelling. This has nothing to do with intelligence.
While most people are aware of dyslexia, not many are familiar with the following three conditions. Dyspraxia affects coordination and perception, causing potential clumsiness with certain tasks. Dyscalculia affects the understanding of numbers and numeracy, making counting a challenge, let alone more complex arithmetic. Thirdly, Dysgraphia affects the ability to write, especially when transcribing text. Why is it important to know about these conditions? Because too many managers have blinkered vision and see them as immovable roadblocks preventing certain jobs from getting done, rather than small obstacles that can be easily navigated, thereby allowing affected employees to flourish – which is also good for teamwork and the business.
One of the most talented team leaders I know is pure gold for any organisation. She’s hard-working, super-smart and knows exactly how to motivate her colleagues. Customers love her and she always gets top results from her team. She has dyscalculia – but that doesn’t detract one jot from the amazing contribution she makes. However, she recently moved into retail, working as a team leader and at the end of each day had to cash up the tills. Naturally, she couldn’t do this and her manager refused to make allowances, so she left the business.
Perfectly good people who are fantastic at the core aspect of their job can be crushed by an inflexible demand placed upon them. Pushing square pegs into round holes is a waste of time and human potential, but matching skills to roles and maximising individual strengths is a key part of successful and productive people management. Good people managers know where to compromise so that each member of their team can excel. This is especially true in the context of neurodiversity.
We all have job roles that need filling, and we naturally look for the right person with the right skills, a task that does not always go well. So consider neurodivergent people as a talent pool that does not need pandering, just understanding and flexibility. If you bend a little, you will become better at treating all of your staff as individuals, balancing their strengths and weaknesses to best effect, while fully empowering your teams and individuals to succeed.
ND and me:
By Joel Goring, UCaaS Specialist, Support to Win
I joined Support to Win four years ago. It’s a busy environment and I like to get stuck in with my work. During a particularly hectic period late last year two colleagues could see I was in crisis and took me aside. They insisted that I take some time off work to focus on my mental health, and, specifically, to see a mental health professional. That was a real turning point as it led directly to getting my autism diagnosis and the treatment that goes with it.
I never thought I was autistic, just a bit weird perhaps! I’ve known I had ADHD for a number of years and the team at Support to Win have always accepted my quirks, but putting a name to it (ie, the autism diagnosis) allowed me to learn more about what it means in practice, especially at work, which in turn has alleviated some mental health issues.
I’d always associated autism with some of the general stereotypes – the genius savants or people who can’t communicate with the world around them. But there’s a massive spectrum, I now know I’m on it and learning more has helped me understand and come to terms with that. This has enabled me to get the best out of myself.
My return to work earlier this year coincided with a big company push around neurodiversity. I have a unique perspective on this and I’m helping colleagues understand more about ND while finding out more about it myself. The team haven’t changed their attitude towards me at all, and there’s genuinely no stigma.
The company has also brought in measures to ease some of my autistic behaviours that can be counterproductive. For example, I have a tendency to do all the work I can, working on everything all the time and eventually getting very run down and stressed out. Now, there are guardrails that keep me solely focused on my projects. I’m not mucking-in on the support desk like I used to, and I’m not allowed to be in the office before normal hours. This whole approach to neurodiversity is unique and I feel fortunate to be part of Support to Win.