Formal Workplace Policies Key To Success of Autistic Employees

Carly Godden  |  04/07/2020

Workplace conditions can block or support the inclusion of their autistic staff just as much as their personal traits.

Accommodations for autistic employees should be part of formal workplace policies to allow autistic people to succeed in the workplace, say Israeli researchers. 

The researchers, from the University of Hanifa in Israel, say that workplace conditions can block or support the inclusion of their autistic staff just as much as their personal traits. 

The study involved interviews with 11 direct supervisors of employees with autism spectrum disorder. They were drawn from workplaces that had participated in a job placement program that provides supported employment programs in Israel.

Most managers lacked knowledge about autism and how to modify the workplace environment to meet the needs of their autistic colleagues. However, they spoke highly of their autistic staff's personal traits, such as their reliability, commitment to the organisation and showing a thirst for learning. 

One manager commented how these abilities were an advantage for the organisation, ‘He is meticulous; he can work using procedures at work that are very organised and consistent … And really, as a result of his work, a large inventory of all sorts of things that we didn’t know we had, eventually they were catalogued … and of course now they can be used for other business processes.”

However, the managers also spoke of communication issues, such as their autistic staff members not picking up on humour or social nuances.

They also struggle to understand characteristics like repetitive behaviour and having a limited range of interests. While some managers understood noise sensitivity, they were unaware of light sensitivity for autistic employees, such as fluorescent lights in the office. 

However, the researchers say managers can make simple practical changes to help their autistic employees. For example, If an autistic employee often disappears into the bathroom to escape a crowded workspace, managers can give them their own working station. 

Another strategy may be pairing a friendly colleague with the autistic employee if they are working the same shift, so they can act as a mediator in social situations. 

Employers are often reluctant to implement accommodations due to perceptions of increased cost. However, the researchers point out that these strategies often cost nothing as they relate to changes to job routine and communication styles. Some accommodations, such as providing desk space, are usually a one-time investment.

The researchers say that formal accommodation policies can provide a structured approach to make the workplace inclusive for autistic employees. 

“Evidence-based knowledge regarding workplace accommodations … [can] serve to anchor workplace accommodations within the corporate culture," they conclude.