I spend part of my time assessing the needs of employees with dyslexia in the workplace. I am often called in when a crisis has arisen, such as a worker failing to meet targets or reporting high levels of stress. It is a part of my job that I really enjoy, as tangible improvements can be made quickly that benefit the employee. The employer then sees improved productivity and a less stressed employee. It sounds like a definite win-win situation. So if that is the case, we need to ask two important questions:
Why is dyslexia under-reported in the workplace?
When it is reported, why is it often at a moment of crisis?
Few HR departments have accurate figures on how many employees are dyslexic or have other common co-occurring differences such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, Meares-Irlen Syndrome, Aspergers or auditory processing disorder (APD). All can impact on stress levels for individuals and business performance – all are under reported.
The British Dyslexia Association reports that 10% of people in the UK are dyslexic. However dyslexia is not spread evenly throughout the workforce. Dyslexia is more commonly found in architects, construction workers, entrepreneurs, farmers, scientists and the medical profession and less commonly found among accountants, administrators and middle management. This means that depending on your sector, the numbers who are dyslexic in your organisation could range from 2% - 25% plus. So tapping into that win-win situation, where those who need to talk about dyslexia are able to, is a necessity for all companies who value low worker stress and high productivity levels.
I regularly find that employees won’t disclose dyslexia because:
- They don’t know they are dyslexic. Schools in the past often missed dyslexia and tended to spot those who fitted a profoundly dyslexic profile. Anyone who didn’t fit that profile then got missed. Some of those missed at school may then get spotted at university or college, when reading lists and essay writing at a higher level reveal weaknesses that are often explained by dyslexia.
- They know they are dyslexic but don’t want to disclose it. This might be because they are fearful of owning up to what can be seen as a weakness, as that might lead to missing out on promotion or losing their job. It might also be because they are not certain about how well they will be treated if they do disclose. Some workers in this position say to me that they thought it would make no real improvement to their situation and that it might even make them a target.
So a crisis is often reached before dyslexia is mentioned.
So how do HR departments encourage disclosure in the workforce?
Creating a workplace environment that promotes disclosure is easily achievable at little cost when compared to the benefits. Your organisation could try the following:
- Run a dyslexia awareness course for all staff, as often there are misconceptions of what dyslexia actually is and isn’t. Use a qualified and experienced dyslexia specialist who is used to training and tutoring in the work environment.
- Sponsor an adult dyslexia charity, put information about adult dyslexia on display and send out to all staff. Dyslexia is often considered a childhood issue that is grown out of. Correcting this misconception is a good place to start a more open dialogue.
- Invite in a qualified and experienced dyslexia workplace specialist to speak at an event and raise awareness. Ask them to use examples that relate to your industry.
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