Treating everyone the same can cause stress

Everyone knows that prolonged stress is not good for us. What a lot of people are unaware of is the impact of stress on an individual with neuro-differences, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD or Asperger’s. Unfortunately, the workplace is often set up in a way which highlights different ways of working as a weakness, and encourages people to push themselves harder, through targets, incentives or simple performance markers.

What some employers fail to understand is how this basic, undifferentiated measuring can, at times, exacerbate the difficulties of people who have a hidden disability or neuro-difference.

Covering up stress and extra effort

People who may have ‘struggled’ in education may be set up to fail further in their lives, if their self-esteem has been damaged through not learning in a ‘normal’ fashion. The same pressure to perform may carry them through to their adult life, if the individuals do not have a grasp of their own preferences. Some of the workplaces I visit do not always encourage people to recognise their strengths, let alone play to them.

neurodifference, workplace, stress, disabilityA process which seems to take colleagues 5 minutes, can take quadruple that time, or may not get done at all (people with hidden disabilities can be masters of avoidance). The individual may think the only way for them to complete this task is to stay late, as it is their shortfall – after all they have learned throughout their life that it generally is their fault.

For other clients, the manager is only focusing on the output, which can often be of high quality, but may overlook the fact that it took so much more effort than their peers. I like the ‘duck on the water’ analogy as it perfectly sums up how good people with hidden disabilities are at not showing their efforts under the surface. Even in this scenario, the individual is over-working themselves and may have adopted unhelpful strategies.

Common effects of support/ improvement plans

When the boss finds out the individual is being under-productive, there is often a cascade of micromanaging followed by the performance plans – all detailed, often text/ verbal based. The individual must make improvements to their performance or they are out! This adds extra pressure to the already stressed individual. Now, the individual may find that instead of making improvements, things are getting WORSE.

How can this be? After all, they’ve been putting in more effort, longer hours, looking at the notes, meeting their manager. ‘Why?’ ‘Am I going crazy?’ ‘Does my boss have it in for me?’ may be some of the thoughts that go through their mind.

Unfortunately for some of my clients, their line managers do not have the knowledge, time, tact or diplomacy of working with employees in such a sensitive way. The target-driven, quick (or sometimes on the job) training of staff and managers may mean they can miss certain opportunities for their workforce to thrive. Instead, due to other pressures from above to perform, they can find it challenging to support an employee to overcome their difficulties.

Can you afford to lose such a valuable group of individuals due to burnout or leaving because they do not want to attend a tribunal? The good news is that all of this is avoidable.

Many managers or employers are unaware of how much support there is available to them, to help them improve wellbeing and maximise performance of an individual with neuro-differences, including assessment, equipment, awareness training and individual support.

What other options are there?

· Diagnostic assessment. A diagnosis for a hidden disability can be revealing and informative about an individual’s strengths and challenges.

· Access to Work assessment. In 2010, Access to Work changed the services to support individuals without a diagnostic assessment. The outcome of the Access to Work assessment is to recommend any adjustments, equipment or support/ training the individual may require.

· Coaching and training. These sessions aim to provide individuals with seeds of knowledge to put them on a road of self-discovery, giving them options on how to thrive under their current situation. With the correct support and nourishment, individuals can grow and reach their potential.

· Manager and HR awareness sessions. Run by an experienced practitioner, these sessions enable management and HR to understand some aspects of neuro-different thinking, and what they may be able to do to support their colleagues.

Read more about our Supporting Neuro-Differences in the Workplace programme.


dyslexia support in workplaceMichelle Doll
Michelle is a workplace dyslexia strategy coach and trainer, who has a unique way of working with individuals based on wide ranging influences and a sound knowledge of diagnosis and implications for employers. Over the last 9 years, Michelle has been working with people in different workplace settings, enabling them to understand their neuro-differences and make the most of their strengths.

Get in touch to see how we can help you support employees with neuro-differences and their managers to create happy and productive teams.

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