To celebrate the up-coming release of our Equality and Diversity course on the Phoenix Learning Portal, we thought we would take the time to illustrate how an employer can cultivate a workplace of Equality and Diversity by looking at this subject through the lens of learning difficulties in the workplace.
What are Learning Difficulties?
When discussing learning difficulties, it is important to outline how they diverge from learning disabilities.
According to Mencap, a UK based charity for those with learning disabilities, a learning disability is “a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities”. The NHS defines a learning difficulty as “a type of Special Education Needs, which affects areas of learning, such as reading, writing, spelling, mathematics”. Unlike a learning disability, learning difficulties do not affect general intellect and instead impacts the speed of learning.
There are many forms of learning difficulties, some of the most common ones are:
- Dyslexia (problems with reading, writing, and spelling)
- ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)
- Dyspraxia (Issues with physical coordination)
- Dyscalculia (otherwise known as “number blindness” impacts someone’s understanding of numbers)
Whilst these conditions can make it more difficult for people to learn or complete tasks in the same way as neuro-typical employees, this does not mean that people with learning difficulties cannot complete tasks to the same standard as other employees. As an employer, you should recognise this fact and make effective adjustments to help employees with learning difficulties thrive in the workplace.
Creating a Good First Impression
One of the biggest stumbling blocks between employers and employees who have learning difficulties is a lack of awareness. This could come as a result of an employee not disclosing their learning difficulty or because an employer has, unknowingly, not cultivated an environment in which an employee would feel comfortable bringing it up.
Indeed, if learning difficulties are not spoken about in the office or employees are not made aware of potential support employers can provide, many employees may feel reluctant to bring up their learning difficulties.
One way to encourage employees to feel confident about disclosing their learning difficulties to their employer or requesting additional support is by creating an open and friendly environment. This can be done at the interview, induction, training, and post-training phases of an employee’s journey with your company.
Highlighting on application forms that interviews can be adjusted for those with learning difficulties is a great way to show that your business is inclusive and that you are willing to make sure that everyone has what they need to complete tasks to the best of their ability. By taking the initiative from the start, you will help cultivate an open environment, inclusive of all.
Specific Challenges and Helpful Solutions
Whilst each person will have their unique challenges, many difficulties fall under these seven categories;
- Organisation and Time Management
- Reading and Writing
- Social Skills
- Concentration, Attention, and Hyperactivity
- Sense of Direction and Coordination
- Stress and Anxiety
Below we explore these categories in more detail and outline how you, as an employer, can make reasonable adjustments to create an inclusive work environment that will help employees reach their potential.
1. Organisation and Time Management
One of the most common workplace issues related to learning difficulties are problems associated with organisation and time management. Often manifesting as a result of problems with short-term memory, employees may forget appointments and meetings or bring the wrong documentation to consultations.
There are many ways to help mitigate against these issues, such as:
- Provision of storage solutions to help employees keep organised and tidy
- Hosting regular meetings with a line manager to manage an employee’s workload
- Provision of schedules in advance, highlighting upcoming deadlines
Issues surrounding memory can impact daily activities in the workplace but are easily managed with the correct reasonable adjustments.
- If, for example, you are giving a presentation to someone with learning difficulties, providing a set of your notes for them can help give them a reference point.
- Giving both oral and written instructions.
- Recording meetings, where possible so that people can listen back.
Reiterating tasks and giving employees tools to go over what has been discussed or review their weekly objectives is a great way to help employees.
3. Reading and Writing
Reading and writing can present challenges to many people with learning difficulties. Some may find spelling a struggle, with many people spelling words with missing syllables or confusing similar-sounding words. Others may struggle to read because words appear to float around the page; there are many ways in which employers can help combat difficulties surrounding reading and writing.
Adjustments to help employees include:
- Providing text to speech software to help employees read documents.
- Providing extra time for employees to tackle large documents.
- Providing speech to text software.
These softwares are inexpensive, whilst the provision of extra time only requires a little extra forethought by an employer. These provisions will help you maximise an employee’s potential.
4. Social Skills
Challenges surrounding social skills can manifest themselves in several ways. Many people with learning difficulties may feel anxious in groups or unfamiliar surroundings, whilst others may struggle to listen; they may miss non-verbal cues.
Adjustments that can help tackle these difficulties include:
- Collectively attending teamwork and social skills workshops.
- Considering where people are placed in the office – many people may prefer less busy and congested areas.
- Attending self-awareness and employee awareness training.
In many ways, creating an inclusive environment and recognising obstacles surrounding social skills are the most important ways an employer can help an employee feel a part of the team. Social skills are considered part of your personality and how you express yourself; it can be hard for neuro-typical employees to see how learning difficulties can impact this.
Educating employees on the effects learning difficulties have on a person’s ability to navigate social situations is crucial and can be done through training and awareness courses.
5. Concentration, Attention and Hyperactivity
Challenges surrounding concentration and attention may manifest in difficulty maintaining focus and becoming easily distracted by others. Several adjustments that can help employees focus include:
- Considering spatial arrangements – making sure people are sat in distraction-free, quiet environments.
- Allowing for flexible shift patterns – this can help employees come into work when the office is quiet.
- Allowing for reasonable breaks.
Creating calm, distraction-free environments can be hard in an office setting, but remember, this doesn’t mean the whole office needs to be this way. Many offices can create a more calm and mellow area, away from the copy room or busy passageways that help facilitate a more peaceful working environment for employees who need it.
6. Sense of Direction and Coordination
Employees who have difficulty with direction and coordination may find it challenging to coordinate their body’s movement, suffer from getting lost and misjudge the time it takes for tasks and travel arrangements. Similarly, others may encounter difficulties surrounding the use of office equipment.
Potential adjustments include:
- Helping employees navigate new offices and buildings.
- Ensure their workspace is clean and tidy to mitigate people tripping and hurting themselves.
- Provide ergonomic keyboard and mouse.
The provision of specialist equipment is a simple and easy way of solving problems surrounding coordination whilst ensuring that an employee’s workspace is clean and free of trip hazards is easy to maintain at no extra cost.
7. Stress and Anxiety
Stress and anxiety often manifest themselves as a result of other challenges that come from learning difficulties. Needing extra time to complete tasks can create the feeling that they are behind and need to catch up, resulting in stress and anxiety. However, by reiterating that these adjustments are there to help employees, this support can help mitigate stress.
Whilst this list is certainly not exhaustive, it provides you with a great starting point to create a better working environment for all, helping you and your employees get the most out of their time in the workplace and help everyone feel accepted.
If you would like more information on Equality and Diversity then keep your eyes peeled for upload information on our social media.
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