The Success-Factor. Would autistic employees make a small company more successful?
18th September 2020
Small company owners want their business to be successful.
How many small business owners have ever wondered how autistic employees would make their business more successful? Maybe not many. But it’s worth some serious thought.
In order to provide an answer to this question that provides a truthful exploration of this topic, and the sort of answer that will be of use to small companies considering employing autistic people, there are at least three things to consider:
- The benefits of hiring autistic people
- The company environment you have
- The support your company can realistically offer
The benefits of hiring autistic people
I have said it before and I will say it again, I am wary of the benefit of over-generalised statements such as ‘autistic people all have hidden talents that you can tap into’, and that ‘companies who are more diverse simply make better businesses’. I might write about this more another time.
But there are certainly things to be said for specifically looking to hire autistic people.
Lower staff turnover equals savings for some business models
These include having a workforce which had workers who would be happy to repeat ‘boring’ and repetitive jobs over and over, quickly and effectively. So if you struggle with staff retention for roles which are considered such, and it is costing you money to continuously recruit staff to replace those who leave, you can save your business a pretty penny.
How? By recruiting autistic individuals whose particular way of being meant that they were not only quick and efficient, but would stay with the businesses doing the same ‘boring’ job until they retired (if that’s what you wanted of course - not all businesses do).
Unlimited creative problem solving can equal market leadership
Another benefit of employing some people with autism, is that including a couple of autistic people who think radically different than others within a team can serve to demolish ‘group think’. This is important in teams where creative problem-solving skills or creative thinking skills are highly valuable.
Forget the gossip
Many autistic people just want to get on with their job and are not interested in chit-chatting.
That alone can save businesses a lot of money and maintain customer goodwill, especially in customer facing departments. It can be easy to get mixed up with an employee’s ability to chit-chat and their ability to communicate or be polite and helpful to customers. Just because they might not be able to manage chit-chat, does not mean they cannot communicate well. There are also many autistic people who like socialising – but they just do it in different ways.
Rare but niche skills
These include autistic people who (for example):
- Just see errors jumping out at them
- Are able to both design a complex internal system and an easy to use, intuitive customer interface
- Are able to retain and analyse a large amount of written information
- Can see patterns that others do not see
- Can combine ideas from many different areas together
Note these skills will be rare in the autistic population too. But at Aspiedent we have come across autistic employees when doing Autism Workplace Assessments who have these attributes.
What about autistic employees and smaller companies in particular?
What about small businesses specifically? Is it harder for autistic people to fit into small companies?
The difference with big companies and small companies, is that small companies are usually more agile (or at least they have to be). Now, many autistic people can be resistant to changes in a role, especially if this is sudden. So in theory, they may need more support than the average employee, (but remember all employees need support), in having to drop what they were doing suddenly and deal with the inevitable ‘mucking-in’ as required in a small business.
As it happens, those autistic people, who do not struggle particularly with change, and who really like challenges, will get right on board with a business pivot or unexpected task. These autistic people might just need just a little more support so that they fully understand what is going on and what is expected of them (basically, they will need to be managed well).
Another great benefit of employing neurodiverse people is that some autistic individuals can see ways of significantly improving systems and processes in businesses that others cannot see. I think Aniela Tallentire from my weekly networking group who owns Tallentire Consultancy, and helps businesses grow, by introducing new systems and processes to drive efficiencies and best practice, would agree with how important good systems, processes and positive work cultures are to business success!
But that said, some autistic people just may not be flexible enough to take on different roles at different times. So you will need help in finding the right person if you have a small business which needs people to regularly ‘change hats’, so to speak.
Lastly, in order to be fully informed as to whether your small business would benefit from employing autistic people, it is only fair for you to be fully informed regarding what resources you might need to:
1. Be able to provide to make it a success and
2. For it to benefit your bottom line.
Things to seriously consider, coming from a business, which is run by an autistic person who employs autistic people, who is an expert in autism and who specialises in providing autism training to other employers…
Time: Some autistic employees can take up more management time with questions through anxiety and fear of doing something wrong. This can be more of a problem during times of change. Some autistic employees will need help with things such as time management and prioritisation of tasks. Of course, there are autistic people who need less management time than others. There are those who just take instructions and then get on with the work.
As a small business owner, can you invest a bit more time in such a person than you would an ‘average’ employee?
Training: Autistic employees can be pedantic and point out small errors that are of no consequence. It may not be feasible for other employees to go along with this, which will cause distress for all concerned. This may have to be carefully managed. Autistic people can also inadvertently cause offense. Some people find the honesty and bluntness of autistic people refreshing; others find it offensive.
If you and your team are open to autism training to understand the autistic person, are patient and are not too sensitive, this can be managed well.
Trust: It may be that an otherwise valuable autistic sales employee finds the train commute to work so stressful due to their oversensitivity to movement, smells, and noise, that it negatively impacts on their performance. Allowing this member of staff to work from home when they are feeling particularly sensitive, and trusting them to fulfil their duties by selling online on those days (for example) could make a huge difference to their wellbeing and therefore their work performance. Ultimately, they make you more money.
It may be necessary to be a bit more flexible and trusting with autistic staff and less focused on the ‘way we do things around here’. What may seem an abnormal solution to an issue may well end up a brilliant idea that you can adopt for all staff.
Tolerance: Those diagnosed with autism in childhood who have had support through school will need support to adjust to the working environment and become independent workers. They will need work coaches and mentors. ATW may fund a work coach for a limited time. Autistic employees, especially younger ones, may not understand the ‘rules’ of the workplace and these should be explained in detail at the start. This can include what is and is not allowed regarding use of computers and phones. For example, boundaries between work use and personal use. But watch out, they might apply the rules too rigidly and report people who appear to be breaking them! Furthermore, some will need encouragement to do tasks that they find boring, with some needing a certain amount of ‘job carving’ to be successful in their role. This would require flexibility in job descriptions, and tolerance from other staff.
A certain amount of leniency and tolerance while an autistic person adjusts to the workplace may be required on behalf of managers and other staff.
In summary, employing the right autistic person with a good fit to their role can be rewarding for the business, the manager, and the employee. An added bonus side effect of this is that the staff team will develop more tolerance of difference, a greater understanding of autism and in turn a greater understanding of themselves. The business will also be contributing to the autistic persons feelings of self-worth and self-esteem and feeling that they are contributing to society.