Supporting dyslexia at work: what can HR do?
12 January 2021
Dyslexia affects around 15% of Americans, making it one of the most common learning difficulties around. But how supportive are you of dyslexia at work?
Dyslexia – what is it, how common is it, and how does it affect work?
Dyslexia causes problems with reading, writing, and spelling. Employees with dyslexia may struggle to read text-dense emails or slip up on the same spelling mistakes. They may also find your company’s acronyms impossible to decode.
Dyslexia International suggests that between 5-10% of the global population experience dyslexia. That equates to around 700 million people worldwide, so chances are there are a number of workers in your company who sit somewhere along the dyslexia spectrum.
How does dyslexia impact someone’s work?
Alongside trouble with reading, writing, and spelling, dyslexia can also make it difficult to retain instructions, addresses, and appointments, copy information accurately, read maps and distinguish between right and left.
In short: dyslexia could be impacting all aspects of an employee’s professional life, and you might not even know it.
People with dyslexia may feel overwhelmed by incoming information, and struggle to communicate clearly and succinctly to others through speech or writing. The individual knows what they want to say, yet may become confused and unable to articulate their feelings.
For this reason, employers and colleagues can often overlook or even completely disregard someone with dyslexia due to the stereotype that they’re not as skilled.
But that’s simply not true. Managers and HR professionals simply need to support their dyslexic team members instead.
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Managing dyslexia at work: what can HR do?
Dyslexia difficulties can be alleviated, accommodated, and sometimes even capitalized upon in the workplace. And that’s where HR comes in.
With adequate tools and resources, dyslexic workers are not only more comfortable — but managers can get the best professional performance out of them, too.
Supporting dyslexia in the workplace: the first steps
Let’s cover the contingencies before we dive in.
HR teams should distinguish a series of learnings, prior to making any adjustments. First, the severity of the individual’s dyslexia; the requirements of the job; the working environment and working practices; and lastly, the requirements of any associated training. And consult an expert if you aren’t clear on the latter.
No two dyslexic cases are the same — don’t fall into the trap of thinking they are! People with dyslexia tend to have different areas of strengths and weaknesses. So this initial assessment is vital in suggesting which training and approach will suit that individual most.
Creating a supportive work environment for dyslexic employees
Once that’s done, it’s time to make the adjustments. And there are many at an employer’s disposal.
Offer dedicated support
Dyslexia acts as a blocker to certain brain processes. So while some training may help individuals to improve their literacy, that’s not the most useful or effective training to use in the workplace. Professional support can help employees cope with their unique 9 to 5 challenges instead.
Relaxation training can help them approach difficult tasks in a calm manner. While assertiveness training can develop the self-confidence required to seek support from you, and other co-workers when needed.
Turn to tech
Mind-mapping software gives dyslexic workers a way to organize information (we like MindNode). And screen-readers can assist employees with reading and writing. You can also offer to record important meetings — avoiding the reliance on memory or written notes.
White can often appear too dazzling and confuse people with dyslexia. The glare of the white background makes it difficult to assimilate the information (a condition known as scotopic sensitivity). Consider colorful alternatives to white backgrounds for paper, computer, and visual aids such as whiteboards. Even cream and off-white can be better.
Don’t watch the clock
Allow plenty of time for employees to read, process, and complete tasks. Then offer frequent breaks to mitigate the risk of information overload. Also, encourage the use of calendars to help time management.
Provide peace and privacy
A quiet working environment can make all the difference between dyslexic employees. Do you have a breakout room you can keep free, in case they need it?
As always, communicate
Regular appraisals and check-ins can help the employee to feel comfortable to air their concerns freely.
With these frameworks and resources, dyslexia won’t hold people back in the workplace. In fact, it can help them to succeed.
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The untapped power of dyslexia at work
Islets of ability, secret superpowers, moments of magic. Whatever you call them, dyslexia facilitates them.
Though, many people with dyslexia excel in lateral or holistic thinking; they may be creative and innovative, or aware of links and associations that may escape more linear or analytical thinkers.
“Islets of ability, secret superpowers, moments of magic. Whatever you call them, dyslexia facilitates them.”
“Thinking outside of the box” jumps to mind. This makes them ideal candidates for a number of roles and responsibilities. It also makes them valuable assets in any workplace, as they are able to approach situations from different angles.
Did you know: one of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, Richard Branson, is dyslexic? He has built his Virgin empire using the creative and dynamic mindset synonymous with the condition.
But “entrepreneur” isn’t the only job title befitting dyslexia skills.
Three roles that people with dyslexia excel in:
Problem-solving is a dyslexic’s forte — they can see the big picture and uncover many possible solutions, too. This skill makes them a perfect fit for web development and digital design. Their ability to adapt to changing situations also holds them in good stead to deal with the ever-changing world of the web.
Many dyslexic individuals are perfect for creative roles, thanks to their visual way of thinking. Graphic Design is particularly fitting as it marries technology and design. Most importantly, designers rely on visuals to convey a message — rather than words.
Some employees find systems hard to get their heads around. But for dyslexics, these constructs are often second-nature. The healthcare industry is rife with technical infrastructures that favor typing rather than writing, making it a great industry for people living with dyslexia.
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What will you do to support dyslexia in your teams?
Dyslexia isn’t something to brush under the rug. Considering the huge number of people with the condition, and its unparalleled plus points, employers should do all they can to embrace it in the workplace. Starting with who you hire and how you recruit them.
Being more inclusive will ensure you’re complying with equality laws. But it will also herald in a new wave of lively, talented, creative candidates who otherwise may have never knocked at your door.
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