Supporting Dyslexia in the Workplace

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What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is one of the many conditions under the umbrella term ‘neurodiversity’. It affects up to 10% of the general population and causes challenges in reading, writing, spelling, and retaining and organising information.  

Tasks involving reading instructions, planning, organising, and even understanding spoken language, all demand considerable mental effort and energy from those with dyslexia, rendering such activities time-consuming and draining.

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Consequently, people with dyslexia are prone to feeling stressed, confused, and frustrated in the workplace, particularly when expected to perform tasks at the same level, speed, and efficiency as their non-dyslexic colleagues.  

How Does Dyslexia Occur?

Dyslexia manifests as a distinct difference in brain function. This means that those with dyslexia are not to blame for the challenges they face. Their difficulties are not a reflection of willingness, determination, or intelligence. It’s simply that their brain works differently from others.  

While its hereditary nature plays a role in developing dyslexia—children of dyslexic parents have a heightened likelihood of having dyslexia themselves—it’s also believed that environmental factors can contribute to its development. For example, having poor or limited access to books during childhood could also play a role.  

Dyslexia is not a weakness. It is not a deficit but a unique cognitive function with its own strengths that deserve acknowledgment and celebration. Embracing and harnessing these strengths promotes inclusivity and enriches the diversity of perspectives and contributions within a workplace. 

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Strengths of People with Dyslexia

People with dyslexia excel in lateral thinking, diverging from conventional paths to conceptualise innovative solutions, predisposing them to become inventors and entrepreneurs. In fact, 25% of CEOs have dyslexia, and many famous actors and actresses, including Jennifer Aniston, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tom Holland, proudly wear their dyslexia as a badge of honour. This is thanks to their exceptional verbal communication skills, ability to captivate storytelling, and ability to convey complex concepts to others effectively. 

When supporting dyslexia in the workplace, it is crucial to recognise other strengths which include: 

Attention to detail: 

Due to their ability to visualise, people with dyslexia can be highly detail-oriented. They often notice mistakes that others don’t, which can mean identifying problems before they occur, saving everyone time, stress, and energy.  

Problem-solving: 

People with dyslexia are very good at seeing a concept from multiple perspectives, which tends to create excellent problem-solving skills. They are also more likely to generate unique solutions others may not have considered.  

Memory retention: 

Many people with dyslexia spend more time and energy focused on reading. Thanks to this, their ability to recall facts and details later is excellent.  

Time management: 

People with dyslexia can display strong abilities to estimate the time required to complete a task accurately and often find it easier to stick to their schedule or plan of action, making them efficient, reliable, and good at managing time 

Creativity: 

People with dyslexia can visualise an end goal or product accurately, making them great leaders.   

Communication: 

Individuals with dyslexia are often excellent verbal communicators. They can be perceived as enthusiastic and energetic, and they can easily inspire teams, lead them towards success, and motivate them to overcome challenges.   

Supporting Team Members with Dyslexia

Supporting employees with dyslexia in the workplace begins with recognising that dyslexia manifests differently in each individual and may vary day-to-day due to factors like sleep, stress, or physical health. Understanding this diversity and tailoring support accordingly is crucial. 

Additionally, cultivating open and confident dialogue about dyslexia among employers, line managers, and HR personnel is essential. Avoiding or prematurely ending discussions can leave employees feeling isolated and unsupported, worsening their challenges. Feedback also plays a vital role, providing opportunities for improvement and recognising strengths. Balanced feedback reassures employees, particularly new hires, about their performance and nurtures a sense of belonging and value. 

Feeling valued and supported builds resilience and enables dyslexic employees to navigate stress more effectively, contributing to a confident, supportive, and efficient workforce. Recognising and celebrating their contributions benefits them and enriches the workplace culture for everyone involved. 

As an employer, you must make accommodations to support dyslexic employees effectively, enabling them to thrive and succeed in their careers. Providing practical support through reasonable adjustments and emotional support helps mitigate additional stress or overwhelm caused by dyslexia.  

Embracing inclusivity benefits the overall success of the business. Therefore, employers must adopt measures to accept and accommodate employees with dyslexia.  

Reasonable Adjustments for Individuals with Dyslexia

If you have an employee with whom you are supporting dyslexia in the workplace, you may feel unsure about what accommodations you can offer to support them.  

Here is a short list of just some reasonable adjustments you might consider to support dyslexic staff:  

  • Flexible working: 

Offering flexible working hours for employees with dyslexia may help them accommodate fatigue, as they use additional brain energy to do tasks such as reading and replying to emails. Allowing some remote work can also help reduce stress, overwhelm, and burnout.   

  • Visual aids: 

Providing infographics and diagrams with images instead of text-heavy documents can help break down information, such as instructions for people with dyslexia. This can help dyslexic employees better comprehend and retain the material.   

  • Assistive technology: 

Investing in screen readers, speech-to-text technology, and text-to-speech technology, to name just a few, can be valuable tools for employees with dyslexia. Such technology will not only support an individual but also any other current or future employees who may also have dyslexia.   

  • Provide training: 

Investing in training to educate yourself and your team on dyslexia and the challenges it presents. Doing this can help create a supportive and inclusive workplace.  

  • Mentoring:  

Mentoring from other employees who can offer additional support and guidance without needing to speak to a line manager can be an informal and invaluable source of support. Mentors should be experienced in supporting colleagues with dyslexia. This informal support increases confidence, helps employees feel accepted without judgment or criticism, and helps identify and overcome challenges as they arise.   

It’s important to note that many reasonable adjustments require little to no cost for employers and yet can make a significant difference for employees with dyslexia.   

Co-Creating Wellbeing Plans

Wellbeing plans are handy tools for all employers to have in place with their employees, regardless of neurodiversity. They are a collaborative tool for employers and employees to devise personalised support strategies. These plans delve into individuals’ strengths, accomplishments, and thriving workplace practices alongside existing measures’ effectiveness. They offer emotional support, facilitate effective problem-solving, and assess adjustment efficacy at agreed intervals. 

Well-being plans ensure that employees feel valued and supported, know what is expected of them, and know what they can expect from their employer if they are struggling. This, too, can be valuable for employees with dyslexia.   

Wellbeing plans for dyslexic employees encompass various strategies, including accessibility enhancements, communication preferences (e.g., email vs. calls), workload adjustments, environmental considerations, assistive technology, stress management techniques, mentoring, and training opportunities.  

Taking a holistic approach, wellbeing plans also address employees’ physical and mental health, empowering them to tend to their wellbeing proactively. Regular reviews and updates ensure adaptability to evolving needs, enabling a sense of value, safety, and confidence among employees. This, in turn, cultivates success in their roles, ultimately benefiting the business as a whole. 

How to Get a Diagnosis of Dyslexia as an Adult in the UK

Recognising dyslexia and supporting employees through an assessment to achieve a diagnosis can be highly validating for individuals and may help you as employers effectively support employees.  

Employers must know how and where to obtain an assessment for dyslexia to support their staff. While many individuals with dyslexia are diagnosed during childhood, this is not always the case. 

Here in the UK, GPs can make referrals to specialist services that assess for dyslexia. The assessment process typically consists of: 

  • Questionnaires about education history 
  • Interviews with the individual and their family members 
  • Tests that look specifically at reading, language, problem-solving and memory.
 

This process can be stressful due to its length and intensive nature, as well as because of the amount of reading and writing required. It’s therefore essential that you, as an employer, support your employees the best that you can throughout this journey.   

Unfortunately, assessments via the NHS may also come with long waiting times. Private assessments are also available, and some employee assistance programmes offer reimbursement for such an assessment, though check with your EAP provider or HR first.  

Remember, you must be patient if an employee struggles at work due to suspected dyslexia and is also struggling to access an assessment through no fault of their own.   

Once diagnosed, recommendations may be made regarding reasonable adjustments that may specifically support the individual. They may also be entitled to extra support through Access to Work, a scheme the UK Government provides. 

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