How Managers Can Support Employees Going Through Autistic Burnout

Rachel Worsley  |  26/08/2023

Supporting an employee who is going through autistic burnout requires a thoughtful and empathetic approach. Autistic burnout can occur when an autistic individual becomes overwhelmed by the demands of daily life, leading to physical and emotional exhaustion. Here are some ways managers can provide support:

  1. Open and Respectful Communication:
    • Initiate a private conversation with the employee to express your concern and willingness to support them.
    • Be a good listener, allowing the employee to express their feelings and needs without judgment.

Here is an example script of how this conversation can take place: 

Manager: [Knocks on the employee's office door or invites them to a private meeting space]

Employee: [Enters or joins the manager in the meeting space]

Manager: "Hello [Employee's Name], thank you for taking the time to meet with me today. I wanted to talk with you because I've noticed that you've been going through a challenging time recently, and I want to make sure you have the support you need. Are you comfortable discussing how you've been feeling?"

Employee: "Yes, thank you for reaching out. It's been a bit overwhelming lately."

Manager: "I'm really sorry to hear that you're feeling this way. Your well-being is important to us, and I want to make sure we can help you through this. Can you tell me more about what's been causing stress or difficulties for you?"

Employee: "It's a combination of work demands, sensory issues, and some personal challenges. It's just been a lot to handle."

Manager: "I appreciate you sharing that with me. It's completely okay to feel overwhelmed at times, and we want to support you during these moments. Let's talk about some ways we can make your work environment more manageable for you."

Employee: "That would be helpful. I think I might need some adjustments."

Manager: "Absolutely. I want to assure you that we are committed to providing a supportive and inclusive workplace. Here are a few things we can consider:

  1. We can work together to adjust your workload, so it's more manageable.
  2. If you find the office environment overwhelming at times, we can explore alternative workspaces or even remote work options.
  3. Please let us know if you have specific sensory sensitivities or if there are any accommodations you need, like noise-cancelling headphones or a quieter workspace.
  4. We can schedule regular check-ins to discuss your workload and how you're feeling, and adjust things as needed.
  5. If you feel comfortable, you can also reach out to colleagues for support. We encourage an open and supportive atmosphere here.

Please know that your privacy is important, and we will respect your choices regarding sharing information about your situation. Our goal is to help you succeed and feel comfortable at work."

Employee: "Thank you, that all sounds helpful. I appreciate your understanding and support."

Manager: "You're very welcome. We're here to support you through this, and I'm glad you reached out. We'll work together to make sure you have what you need to thrive at work. If there are any changes or additional accommodations you need in the future, please don't hesitate to let me know. Your well-being is a top priority for us."

Employee: "Thank you, I feel better knowing that I have your support."

Manager: "Of course, we're here for you. If you ever want to talk more about this or anything else, my door is always open. We're a team, and we'll get through this together."

This script demonstrates empathy, support, and a willingness to collaborate with the employee to find solutions that will help them manage their burnout and continue to excel in their role. It's essential to maintain open lines of communication and show that you're committed to their well-being.

2. Flexible Work Arrangements:

  • Consider flexible work hours, reduced workload, or remote work options, if possible and applicable to the job, to help alleviate stress and reduce burnout triggers.
  • Allow the employee to take short breaks when needed, even if it's not the standard practice.

3. Clear Expectations:

  • Ensure that job expectations and tasks are clearly defined, so the employee knows what is expected of them.
  • Avoid sudden changes or surprises in work assignments whenever possible.

4. Sensory Considerations:

  • Be aware of sensory sensitivities that the employee may have and make adjustments in the work environment, such as providing noise-cancelling headphones or allowing the employee to work in a quieter area.

5. Social Support:

  • Encourage the employee to seek support from their colleagues, if they feel comfortable doing so. Some autistic individuals may appreciate having a trusted colleague they can turn to during difficult times.

6. Regular Check-Ins:

  • Schedule regular one-on-one check-ins with the employee to monitor their progress and well-being.
  • Ask how they are feeling and if there are any specific accommodations or changes that could help.

7. Accommodations:

  • Work with the employee to identify reasonable accommodations that can help reduce stress and workload. These accommodations should be tailored to their specific needs.

8. Mental Health Resources:

  • Provide information about mental health resources and support available within the organization or through external channels, such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

9. Training and Awareness:

  • Educate yourself and your team about autism and autistic burnout to foster understanding and empathy.
  • Promote a culture of acceptance and inclusion within the workplace.

10. Respect Privacy:

  • Respect the employee's privacy and only share information about their situation with those who need to know for accommodation purposes.

11. Long-term Planning:

  • Collaborate with the employee to develop a plan for their long-term well-being, including strategies for preventing future burnout episodes.

Here's an example script of how to do this long-term planning. 

Manager: "Hello [Employee's Name], I'm glad we could meet today to discuss your well-being and work towards preventing future burnout episodes. It's important to us that you feel supported and comfortable at work. How are you feeling today?"

Employee: "Thank you for your concern. I'm doing better now, but I'd like to avoid getting to that point again."

Manager: "I appreciate your willingness to work on this. To help us plan for the long term, let's talk about some strategies and accommodations that could prevent future burnout episodes. Do you have any ideas or specific needs that you believe would be helpful?"

Employee: "Well, I think having a more consistent routine could help. Knowing what to expect would reduce my anxiety."

Manager: "That's a great point. Consistency can be very beneficial. Let's explore how we can create a more predictable routine for you. We can also discuss setting clear expectations for your role and tasks. Are there any specific aspects of your routine or job that you'd like to adjust?"

Employee: "I also think it would be helpful to have regular check-ins like this one. It gives me a chance to discuss my workload and any concerns."

Manager: "I'm glad to hear that you find these check-ins helpful. We can definitely continue with regular one-on-one meetings to monitor your progress and address any issues that may arise. Is there a preferred frequency for these check-ins that would work best for you?"

Employee: "Once a month would be good, I think. It gives me enough time to work on things but still allows for regular communication."

Manager: "Excellent. We'll schedule monthly check-ins to keep our communication lines open. Additionally, we can collaborate on setting realistic goals and priorities for your workload, ensuring it aligns with your strengths and needs. Would you like any training or resources to help you manage stress and workload better?"

Employee: "I'd appreciate resources on time management and stress reduction techniques."

Manager: "Noted. We'll provide you with resources and training in those areas. Also, if you ever find that you need more support, whether it's in terms of workload adjustments or additional accommodations, please don't hesitate to reach out. We're here to help you succeed and avoid burnout."

Employee: "Thank you. I feel more confident knowing we have a plan in place."

Manager: "You're welcome. We're committed to your success and well-being. Remember, we're a team, and we're here to support you. If there's anything else you'd like to discuss or any changes needed along the way, please feel free to bring it up during our check-ins or at any time."

This script demonstrates a proactive and collaborative approach to long-term planning to prevent future episodes of autistic burnout. It emphasizes open communication, individualized support, and the ongoing commitment of the manager and the organization to the employee's well-being.

12. Encourage Self-Care:

  • Encourage the employee to prioritize self-care, including getting enough rest, engaging in activities they enjoy, and seeking professional support if necessary.

13. Follow Up:

  • Continue to check in with the employee as they recover from burnout to ensure they are coping well and making progress.

Remember that the specific needs of employees experiencing autistic burnout can vary widely. What works best will depend on the individual's preferences and circumstances. The key is to maintain open lines of communication, provide support, and create an inclusive and accommodating work environment where employees can thrive.

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