Hire Outside the Box: Why You Need Autistics on Your Team
Innovative companies are constantly looking to diversify and expand their workforce with people who think differently. And yet, Autistic people are disproportionately affected by under- and unemployment and often struggle to find and keep a job. Granted, the often-cited unemployment rate of around 80% in Ireland and the UK is possibly set too high, given that a lot of working Autistics fly under the radar or can’t access diagnosis. However, employers are still missing out on the opportunity to hire highly educated, qualified, and dedicated people.
A few minor accommodations can have a huge impact on an Autistic person’s life and help you tap into this talent pool while boosting the productivity and wellbeing of your entire team. Although some large tech companies have taken steps towards establishing autism hiring programmes, employers still have a long way to go to become more inclusive – and tech is by far not the only industry that would benefit from a broader spectrum of people.
Here are 5 reasons why you should hire us and some tips how to make your workplace Autistic-friendly.
Please keep in mind that we are all individuals with different strengths and needs. The following points will apply to many, but NOT ALL Autistic people. Just ask your (potential) employee or coworker how you can support them!
Why should you hire us?
1) We are self-powered (and self-driving)
People who say they are ‘driven’ should ask themselves: Who’s in the driver seat? Most Autistic people are best fuelled by intrinsic motivation. Which means we can be given responsibility and entrusted to work on tasks independently. Don’t get me wrong, teamwork is important. But sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth.
Studies have shown that brainstorming and tackling every task in a team setting is not the most efficient way. And who loves endless ‘meetings that could have been an email’ anyway? Giving people time and space to ponder difficult problems, come up with ideas, and then bring them together will often lead to more creative and elegant solutions.
3) We are great at finding 'Wally'
Or spelling mistakes. Or coding errors. Ask an Autistic person to proofread a text or cross-check facts and we will do so with meticulous care. I guarantee you our Autistic readers will have noticed that I skipped 2). Did you? We like things to be done well. At the same time, a lot of us are also ‘big picture’ people thanks to our pattern-recognition and association skills.
Autistic people often aren’t great multitaskers. But then again, nobody really is – juggle too many balls and it’s only a matter of time until you drop one. Task switching reduces attention. So time to get in the zone and do things properly, which brings us to our next strength:
3) We binge on our projects like it's a Netflix marathon
Give us a task that sparks our interest and we will be so invested in it that you will have to remind us to take our lunch break. Autistics are known to become experts in their fields and investigate problems and ideas with dedication until they find a solution.
Are your team members constantly distracted by social media or gathering around the (virtual) water cooler thirsting for gossip? An Autistic person will hyperfocus on their task until it’s done.
4) We will tell the emperor that he's naked
Or the CEO that they’re wrong. If you’re surrounded by ‘yay!’-sayers, add an Autistic employee to spice things up and get honest, constructive feedback. We contribute to a positive work environment. Employers might be hesitant to hire Autistic people because they fear a lack of social skills. But our social skills are just different. We value honesty, directness, fairness, and inclusion. Which means no gossiping, bullying, triangulation, and backstabbing from our side, and more time to focus on the task at hand.
5) We are more resourceful than the Doc in Back to the Future
Navigating a world that wasn’t made for us means that we’re constantly trouble-shooting and looking at obstacles from a dozen different angles. Anybody who says we aren’t flexible doesn’t see how many different ways we have to bend every day.
Many Autistic people thrive when they can follow a routine and some even like repetitive tasks. We love a good pattern. However, within our given routine, we tend to come up with creative solutions because we see the world in a different light. We have x-ray vision, seeing through porous top-down structures and crusty procedures. And we aren’t afraid to speak up and put forward unconventional ideas. You wouldn’t be browsing the Internet on your device right now if it wasn’t for Autistic innovators.
So, why should WE work for YOU?
What do you and your company bring to the table? Make your workplace more Autism-friendly by streamlining processes, and creating a healthy, productive atmosphere. Simple changes can go a long way and benefit the whole team.
Your job ad is to the point
Cut the buzz words and think about what you’re really looking for. Most Autistic people take every word they see in a job ad seriously, so only ask for qualifications and soft skills that are absolutely essential, or we probably won’t apply. Looking for a lighthouse keeper? Then scratch the “team player” requirement.
You let our work do the talking for us
What do you value more, skills or showmanship? We might not talk the talk, but we do walk the walk. Autistics aren’t always the best at selling themselves in a formalised and artificially uncomfortable situation such as a job interview. Give us the chance to explain our motivations in writing. Or just let our results speak for themselves.
You create a sensory-friendly environment
Many Autistic people get overwhelmed by noise, strong smells, extreme temperatures, flickering fluorescent lights, screen glare, and crowded, cluttered places. Create a more accommodating environment by including some sensory-friendly, quiet areas with dimmable/warm light or even stimulating mood lights to boost focus and creativity. Save energy and reduce sick leave by calibrating your air-con/thermostat and provide access to fresh air. Replace germ- and noise-spreading hand dryers with reusable towels. Encourage the rest of your staff not to spray or wear aggressive perfumes and aftershaves. This is a great opportunity to tell that one lad to stop microwaving fish. Creating distraction-free spaces can boost your staff’s creativity.
Autistic people tend to be literal thinkers and often don’t ‘read between the lines’. Remember that one time in English class, when your teacher insisted that the blue curtains stood for the weltschmerz experienced by the protagonist? When really, they were probably just blue curtains, on sale at IKEA? Please don’t be like that.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. Don’t rely on body language or subtle cues to communicate. Be open, clear and direct. Simplifying instructions and streamlining processes will not only benefit your autistic staff but also boost your business.
You provide training and build your team
Rope courses and cocktail classes in noisy bars might not be the best choice, but there are plenty of sensory-friendly team building activities to choose from. Not the superficial one-off days with corporate buzz words. Any opportunity for genuine interaction and direct communication will do. If employees can explore their communication styles and experiment with their different roles in a team, it’s a great opportunity for your staff to work together more harmoniously and communicate more efficiently. Autistic people love sharing knowledge about their fields of expertise, which makes for a great opportunity to bond and learn together.
Many Autistic people are eager to work and are dedicated to their job. However, we are the ‘twice as bright, but half as long’ burning type of candles. Constant sensory input and the ‘empty carb’ type of social interaction often leave us drained – we dedicate all our energy to our work and have none left for our private lives. Flexible working hours to avoid rush hour or accommodate for our sleep patterns, the ability to work from home, or reduced hours can be a solution. There is no need for unproductive presenteeism with Autistic people. Our ability to work independently and to focus means that we often get more work done in less time. And the pandemic has shown that companies CAN accommodate for our needs, so there’s no excuse.
Not only Autistic people, but also many non-Autistic colleagues will benefit from diversifying your team and making some small, but effective changes to boost creativity, increase productivity and reduce stress, ensuring well-being in the workplace, a better work-life balance and increased staff loyalty.