Are you missing a trick in your struggle to obtain valuable employees?
Jen Blacow Operations Manager, Aspiedent CIC
9th July 2020
I sometimes wonder if small businesses feel that they don’t have the resources to manage autistic employees, or worry that they would not be able to cope employing and managing an autistic person because of lack of understanding and fear of getting it wrong.
Perhaps the concern is that it would cause so many problems it would overwhelm the employee’s value to the business? Perhaps sometimes, it does. But we know of cases where it hasn’t, and the employee has been a major asset.
There are potentially great benefits to employing people with neurodiversity, for example autism.
Of course, the first consideration is that you need someone who can do the job to a high standard. Small businesses are not charities and cannot afford to take on someone who will not pull their weight or whose difficulties are so disabling that they cannot do the particular job they are employed to do effectively.
But the good news is that autistic people can make excellent small business employees.
I have heard many smaller companies in the IT sector say that they spend time and resources training someone up, only for them to be poached by a bigger company for a larger salary!
We are not saying this will not happen to an autistic employee, but we can say it is less likely.
It can be very difficult for an autistic person to get a job because of how they present socially and because of poor interview skills.
Therefore if they are happy in their job and you do not take advantage of them, they are likely to be loyal. Most autistic people prefer the known to the unknown. After all life is stressful enough for them, so why make working life more stressful too?
Once in the job, you may need to make that sure they know what is expected of them. You might be surprised at what they do simply out of ignorance and/or difficulty with social skills. For example, interrupting conversations without an invite, or sending uninvited (critical – but constructive criticism to them) feedback to the boss!
If something like this happens which is not part of your company culture, simply tell them that what they have done is not acceptable and reiterate what is acceptable. If they have genuine concerns tell them how to raise them and who to raise them with. This kind of thing is simple but key.
If creativity is what you are looking for in an employee, then certainly consider an autistic person. We once did a creative thinking exercise with a group of 8 autistic people which had been done with a group of 80 entrepreneurs. The autistic group won hands down, despite only half of them contributing.
Autistic people who are not creative will not apply for creative jobs: they won’t be interested.
Basically, if you are tolerant and understand what are likely to be the key difficulties, employing an autistic person can be extremely rewarding – and add value to your business.
We once had a brilliant autistic employee.
Ok, so he didn’t communicate with us much unless we asked him a direct question in ‘just the right way’, or when he was warning us about some kind of imminent danger (like the time I left my backpack in front of my car and was about to set off and drive over it!)
But he was helpful and hardworking and his accuracy and attention to detail was quite brilliant.
Yes, we had to train him to take lunch breaks and actively encourage him to take holiday. But that was a small price to pay for his willingness to get on with the job.
He was punctual, focused, and happy to stay on after his normal going home time when we had a deadline to meet. He loved to help us out at events and had an eye for noticing when an exhibition stand visitor wanted to talk to us, and we were not paying attention to them.
When he started with us, his social skills were very poor. But by the time he left (because we no longer had a job for him), he was cracking jokes. He has now moved on into a new job and is doing well.