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Making the workplace inclusive for autistic employees

April marks Autism Acceptance Month, a pivotal time to amplify awareness, understanding, and inclusion for autistic individuals. Autism Acceptance Month exists to celebrate the positive contributions… View Article


Making the workplace inclusive for autistic employees

April marks Autism Acceptance Month, a pivotal time to amplify awareness, understanding, and inclusion for autistic individuals.

Autism Acceptance Month exists to celebrate the positive contributions of autistic people to society, and to get everyone thinking differently about how we can make society more accessible to autistic people and more accepting of neurological differences.

This annual event sees organisations and advocates globally hosting campaigns and initiatives designed to educate the public, dispel prevailing myths, and uplift autistic people and their families.  Yet, despite their potential, the employment statistics for autistic individuals are disheartening.

The National Autistic Society explains autism as a lifelong developmental disability that can affect how people communicate and interact with the world. They estimate that more than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. However, research from The Lancet in 2023 estimates the number to be nearer to 1.2 million as many people have not received an official diagnosis

According to the 2024 Buckland Review of Autism, only about 30% of working-age autistic individuals are employed, compared to 50% of all disabled individuals and 80% of non-disabled individuals. These figures are not just numbers; they reflect a substantial talent pool eager to contribute meaningfully to the workforce but who face significant barriers in finding employment.

How Companies Are Making a Difference

According to WiHTL & Diversity in Retail, many of their members are leading by example in creating more inclusive workplaces.

Compass Group (UK&I) has launched the Social Partner Hub, collaborating with Ambitious About Autism and other organisations to facilitate employment opportunities for underrepresented groups. This initiative has already enabled 60 individuals to embark on new careers, complemented by targeted training for managers to nurture an inclusive culture right from the recruitment phase.

Fuller’s and Greene King are also setting benchmarks for inclusion. Fuller’s management team ensures that necessary workplace adjustments are in place to support their autistic employees. Similarly, Greene King’s EDI team has developed internal resources to enhance understanding and support for autistic colleagues within the organisation.

How can employers support autistic employees?

Diveristy in Retail have shared these ideas for supporting autistic employees:

  • Education and awarenessEmployers should provide training to all staff members to increase awareness and understanding of autism. This can help foster a more inclusive and supportive workplace culture.
  • Flexible work arrangementsOffering flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting or adjusted work hours, can help autistic employees manage sensory sensitivities or other challenges they may face in a traditional office environment. Flexible working for parents or carers of autistic family members is also very supportive.
  • Clear communication: Providing clear and direct communication is essential. This includes giving clear instructions, avoiding ambiguous language, and being explicit about expectations.
  • Sensory considerations: Making adjustments to the physical environment, such as providing noise-cancelling headphones, creating quiet spaces, or allowing for flexible lighting options, can help autistic employees manage sensory overload.
  • Structured feedback and support: Providing regular, structured feedback and support can help autistic employees understand their performance and areas for improvement. This can include setting clear goals and providing specific, constructive feedback.
  • Workplace adjustmentsImplementing workplace adjustments, such as providing assistive technology, allowing for extra breaks, or offering alternative communication methods (e.g., written instructions instead of verbal), can help autistic employees succeed in their roles. Occupational health services can also provide information on this.
  • Social support networks: Encouraging the formation of social support networks within the workplace can help autistic employees feel more included and supported. This can include setting up peer mentoring programmes or affinity groups for neurodivergent employees.
  • Individualised approach: Recognising that every autistic individual is unique and may require different types of support, employers should take an individualised approach to adjustments and support.

The initiatives highlighted during Autism Acceptance Month underscore the valuable contributions autistic individuals can make in the workplace. Beyond this designated month, it’s crucial that we as a retail community continue to advocate for and implement inclusive practices year-round. By learning about autism and integrating this knowledge into our organisational policies, we can make significant strides toward a more inclusive society.

Thank you to Diversity in Retail for the information sources.

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