10 Reasonable Adjustments – Helping Work to Work For You
Employment can often feel like a daunting mountain to scale and sometimes the barriers presented to an autistic person can make the world of work seem unachievable. So often just a small and simple adjustment can help no end and help you flourish.
In last week’s blog I shared my own personal story of employment. This week I wanted to share some of the adjustments that have helped me along the way. It is important to remember that in this post I am sharing my own personal experiences and what has worked for me might not necessarily work for you, but I do hope that it can give you some ideas to think about. I work in an office environment so these adjustments reflect that, but many could be used in other settings equally as well.
So what is a ‘reasonable adjustment’? I asked this question to the Occupational Health Assessor I had been sent to see.
She explained that it is an agreed (formally or informally) set of changes that can be implemented by your employers to help you achieve your best in your job. They can be flexible to help you through a difficult patch or put in place as a long term option. Each workplace will have different requirements so it’s best to be able to discuss with your management or careers advisor on what can be offered.
But what’s ‘Reasonable’ and ‘Unreasonable’?
My advisor suggested that enlisting a circus to cheer me up would be unreasonable, but a clown assigned to my office might be reasonable.
I understand what she was trying to convey with this answer, but having a clown would freak me out and not be of any use. I’m also not sure which of my colleagues would be best suited to this task….
So on to some ideas that have been more realistic….
1: Flexible Hours
Flexible working hours has been one the most useful tools available to me in assisting my employment. In essence it works by allowing me the flexibility to choose my hours of work rather than having a fixed and rigid shift pattern. This obviously has boundaries (a window of time to start and end the day in, communicate with my management my projected working times, complete my contracted hours over a set period etc) but even small amounts of flexibility are game changers.
In a previous job that didn’t allow for flexible hours I encountered a situation classic of how my condition can effect things. The drive into work was stressful and a number of delays meant that I arrived at the office 3 minutes late. I was already feeling overloaded by the disrupted commute but the reprimand for being late resulted in a meltdown so severe I was signed off sick by the doctor. The result – stress and loss of money for me and a loss of an employee for a week for the company – a lot for the sake of a 3 minute delay!
With flexible working this situation wouldn’t have even caused a ripple – I would have allowed an extra few minutes to calm down and made up the lost time later in the week. A win for both myself and the company.
2: Home Working
Another option that has helped me in the past is the ability to work from home. For me an occasional day working from laptop or doing an online course can help me still be productive on the days when I’m not well enough to drive or have awkwardly timed medical appointments. In my job it is limited what I can do from home, but perhaps in yours this would be a great option to explore?
3: Time Outs
This is another adaptation that has been the difference between a productive day and complete fail for me. The ability to get up and take a break. This obviously has to be kept within constraints – Clearly I should tell someone that I need a break first and taking a 10 minute break every 10 minutes would be ridiculous so it must be kept reasonable.
The practical application of this is times I feel I’m getting overloaded or approaching meltdown. Taking myself away for a few minutes to have a glass of water, walk around the building or simply sit in a quiet room allows me to be able to calm things down and make a rational decision how to proceed. I use this flexibility to take regular breaks between tasks to focus on the next task to be completed and helps balance my day.
4: Increased Sickness Trigger Points
One of the implications of living with a disability is that I unfortunately have more than my fair share of days off sick. As well as the direct autism related issues (meltdowns, tiredness, overload, depression, anxiety etc) that can render a day unmanageable there is also another factor, lower immunity. All of the negative effects that autism can bring as well as many of the medication can make me more susceptible to usual mild health concerns.
Most employers have a set trigger point relating to sickness absence and exceeding the number of sick days allowed can trigger disciplinary action. As it is recognised I potentially will exceed this I have an increased trigger point.
5: Time Allowances for Medical Appointments
A frustration of being in full time employment is the absence virtually any support during the evenings. I sometimes need to leave work early in order to attend hospital appointments, care appointments or therapy. Even the support groups happen during daytime hours, the nearest to me that meets in the evenings is 50 miles away. My employers have allowed the flexibility to attend these appointments. Hopefully as services improve there will be more options for evening support. For now the messages from the support providers are ‘we’ll help you become employable’ and their actions say ‘We won’t provide help accessible to the employed.’ This remains an ongoing frustration.
Mentorship is something that I have tended to source myself informally, although there are options to arrange this more formally. Mentorship provides a point of contact who can guide and advise on issues relating to employment. I’ve got a good working relationship with a number of colleagues and line management and use this as mentorship. If I don’t understand something or want advice on how to respond or deal with a situation then this is where I go for advice. When changing jobs I have used the union for mentorship on approaching employers and making applications. Whether you do this formally, informally or both, this is something that can be immensely helpful.
Very often I come across as being a very confident and articulate when I speak so it can come as a surprise that I often require an advocate. An advocate is someone who I have allowed to speak on my behalf. At times, especially when recovering from a meltdown or sensory overload, I need someone to act on my behalf in making arrangements and decisions. For me it tends to fall on my assigned support worker or my parents. It does embarrass me no end having to delegate this, but having established this with my employers removes the immediate embarrassment of having to explain why as an adult I got my dad to phone in sick for me. In a previous position I was required to only speak for myself (I think this is legally questionable) but luckily since I’ve been able to name individuals who can speak on my behalf should I need them to.
8: Communication Filtering
This is a long way of saying, ‘give me that info in a different way.’ Some people are visual, some prefer words, some like emails, some like the phone……
Too much information in different formats confuses me and causes an overload. I’m visual and need things written down. To some degree I can adjust this myself. I always have a notepad with me and write down instructions and if I can I will ask the person to email me the details of the task. This rarely causes anyone to even raise an eyebrow. In a past job a system was put in place where all jobs coming my way were filtered via my line manager who’d re-write them into a format I understood. At the time this was a huge help but in my current job isn’t needed. This is a good example of how adaptations can vary over time.
The telephone is a particular one to note. I find using the telephone particularly difficult for both communication and sensory reasons. In previous jobs I’ve been able to put in place adaptations ranging from screening calls using an answer phone to being taken off the phones altogether. In my current post this isn’t suitable and the phone is central to a lot of my work. I’ve had to find ways around these difficulties and it currently doesn’t cause too many problems (on the surface at least!). This shows how sometimes full adjustments just aren’t suitable and you have to make efforts to manage the difficulty in other ways. I have scripted out texts to remind me what to say on the phone and plan calls before making them as I know this helps me.
9: Office Plan Review
Something often overlooked, but very important, is the layout of the office. Slight changes to my desk or even location in the office can create huge benefits. As I am visual and have difficulty processing sound I find it better to face in towards my colleagues and the door. This way I can see if someone wants to talk to me and helps me become part of the team. If the office becomes a bit noisy I have the option to move to a quieter desk for a short while to help me concentrate on my tasks. Perhaps there are adjustments like this that may benefit you?
10: Involvement of External Agencies
Numerous organisations and charities offer various means of supporting you in work. This may be by coaching you, speaking with your managers or advising of more formalised changes. It is always worth looking around and seeing if there are any services near you who can assist you in being successful in your job.
I hope in this post I have shown that sometimes very small adjustments can have a very positive impact for both you and your employers. I’d be very interested to hear your comments on what adaptations have been successful for you in your line of work or what you feel might help you in finding a job. I will be covering this topic in future posts and if you have found this of interest then please feel free to share.
Next time on Steve's Aspie Adventures:
My next post will be in two weeks time where I will look at the subject of putting our difficulties into perspective and asking this question:
- Does recognising that others may be in a worse situation than you act as a helpful or unhelpful viewpoint?
Let me know what you think...