Only 58 percent of autistic employees disclose their diagnosis to HR

According to new research from auticon, a global IT consultancy and social enterprise whose IT consultants are all autistic, only slightly more than half (58 percent) of autistic workers disclose their diagnosis to HR.

According to a survey of autistic adults who work, line managers are the colleagues with whom they are most likely to speak about their condition (7 out of 10), but 1 in 10 autistic workers do not feel they can reveal their diagnosis at all.

The main barriers for those who had not disclosed their autism to anyone at work included:

  • 2 in 5 (40%) are not ready to tell people in the workplace
  • 1 in 3 (33%) have concerns about being treated adversely
  • 1 in 4 (27%) do not want to share their private information with their employer
  • 1 in 4 (27%) feel unsure how to communicate their diagnosis to people in their workplace
  • 1 in 5 (20%) have only recently been diagnosed
  • 1 in 5 (20%) are concerned about being thought of negatively by employers
  • 1 in 8 (13%) are concerned that it will harm their prospects within the company
  • 1 in 14 (7%) have had a previous negative experience of disclosing

Neurodivergent people, such as those on the autism spectrum, frequently have inherent strengths in areas like pattern recognition, logical thinking, and accuracy. Yet, according to recent studies, autistic persons are substantially underrepresented in the workplace, with only one out of every five autistic people working.

Andrea Girlanda, Chief Executive of auticon, comments: “Whilst it is reassuring to see that a lot of autistic workers are talking to their line managers about their diagnosis, there is still a long way to go to make the workplace a more inclusive space which allows people to thrive. Autistic people often have exceptional talents, enabling them to outperform in areas such as data analytics, cyber threat detection, and software development so more must be done to make sure these talents are being utilized, especially in sectors facing a skills gap.”

The goal of auticon’s new study was to uncover some of the most significant problems that autistic employees encounter in the workplace. The following were the most often mentioned issues:

  • Worries about how to communicate mental health decline to management (49%), which was exceptionally high in younger autistic workers – 62% in age 18-30 vs 49% overall
  • Preferred learning style not being followed e.g. being given text-heavy documents, when pictorial information is easier (48%)
  • Being given too much information at once (43%)
  • Feeling the need to hide their autism (42%)
  • Processes and procedures not being followed (40%)
  • Lack of clear instructions or outcomes (39%)
  • Last minute meetings/calls (39%)
  • Bright lighting (36%)
  • Open plan office (35%)
  • Having to navigate workplace small talk (35%)

Girlanda adds: “HR leaders have a significant role to play in driving equality and diversity, and a big opportunity to capitalize on too. A drive for equality has led many organizations to adopt a one-size-fits-all approach, which is essentially incompatible with equity in its true sense. The most successful approach to D&I is not equality of treatment but equality of opportunities. The key is flexibility rather than conformity. It shouldn’t be about different processes for men and women, processes for neurotypical individuals, and processes for neurodivergent employees. What works best is to flex your existing model to introduce variations and options suiting the specific areas of strengths and weaknesses every individual has.”

Survey respondents identified the most helpful things for autistic employees as being:

  • Having clearly defined instructions – 51% (77% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Appropriate software and equipment e.g. speech to text; screen filters; multiple monitors – 50% (72% say this is either happening or in the process of happening) 
  • Flexible and adjusted hours i.e. start/finish time is later or earlier depending on preference – 49% (76% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Having a preferred desk in a suitable location – 47% (72% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Option to wear earplugs/noise-canceling headphones – 44% (70% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Being able to use stimming items during work – 43% (74% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Being able to take regular comfort breaks – 42% (77% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Having a workplace buddy or mentor – 41% (71% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Option to work from home – 29% (69% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Option to turn the camera off during video meetings – 29% (73% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)

Russell Botting, auticon’s Lead Job Coach, assists IT consultants in preparing for projects by explaining company culture and ensuring they have everything they need. He also conducts autism awareness training for the host organization, ensuring they understand any differences they may encounter and facilitating any reasonable adjustments that may be required.

He says: “The results of this survey send a clear message that there are some really simple changes that can be made to make the working environment a more accessible, accepting, and supportive place where people can be their authentic selves without fear of repercussions. This is good for all workers, not just autistic employees, and that makes good business sense too.”

Auticon has launched a brand new podcast to help drive excellent conversations around autism, coinciding with the release of the research and the company’s tenth anniversary. ‘Autism: In Conversation with auticon,’ hosted by Carrie Grant MBE, features interviews with leading voices on autism, including business leaders who have implemented successful diversity and inclusion strategies to improve access for neurodivergent talent, social media influencers, and autism academics. Visit www.auticon.co.uk for more details.

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