So you recruited a dyslexic

You’ve recruited a dyslexic. Don’t panic.  In fact, congratulate yourself. Not only are dyslexics creative, problem-solving, driven individuals but as a bonus the thought diversity you now have in your team is a real asset.  There is a reason marketing firm the Garage (founded by former Saatchi & Saatchi creative director Chris Arnold) launched a recruitment campaign targeting specifically dyslexics .

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Tips on managing a dyslexic

I guess you are here because you want some advice.  If you have read my post on what is dyslexia you’ll already know dyslexia has its advantages and drawbacks.  Success in the workplace requires the individual, the manager and the organisation to all work together. That’s what management is all about: creating an environment where your team can thrive.

Firstly, we are all unique.  I don’t mean that in the every snowflake is unique (but essentially the same) type way.  Every dyslexic profile will be different, different strengths, different weaknesses, different coping strategies, and different emotional responses.  The differences of each dyslexic’s strengths and weaknesses are often referred to as their spiky profile. My dyslexia went undiagnosed until university as my reading and writing are not too bad and these have long been considered the indicators of dyslexia. You will need to talk with your employee to explore how you might mitigate any challenges.

Dyslexia is a recognised difficulty under Equality Act 2010, which replaced the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I’ll refer to this as “the act” from here on. This means that you have a responsibility to ensure that disabled people are not treated unfavourably and are offered reasonable adjustments or support.

Dyslexia diagnostic assessment

Your new recruit may have a Psychologist Assessment or a Specialist Assessment which provides a diagnosis of dyslexia (or other cognitive difference).  If they do, and if they are happy to share it with you, it will help identify specific challenges and enable you to put help in place.  It is a very personal document so they may be reluctant to share it until you build up trust.  If they do not have a formal diagnosis it may be worth contacting HR to see if this is something that can be arranged.  Most large employers and all public sector organisations are expected to fund a full dyslexia assessment under the act.  A formal assessment can be helpful for unlocking adjustments in professional exams. I have written more on how dyslexia is identified.

Assessing workplace adjustments

This is a job for a specialist.  Depending on the size of your organisation you may or may not have access to such a specialist.  If a specialist is available the report they create is a great treasure of information, more so than the assessment which might not mean much to you.  You will need to review the document with HR to determine which proposed adjustments are reasonable.  Under the act, you are only required to make adjustments that are reasonable.  Factors such as the cost and practicability of making an adjustment and the resources available to you may be taken into account in deciding what is reasonable. Ultimately, it is for an Employment Tribunal to decide. When considering adjustments don’t just look at the cost – assess the potential benefits of increased productivity and decreased workplace stress.

If you don’t have the resources to perform a formal assessment all is not lost.  If this is not their first job you can explore what adjustments they have benefited from in the past.  If this is their first job they might not know what help they need to succeed.  The British Dyslexia Association has some helpful guidance.

Putting  adjustments in place

With the adjustments identified it is time to put them in place.  Failure to implement Reasonable Adjustments would be a breach of the act.  If you have not already discussed with your new recruit their preference on disclosing then now is the time.  Some people are open about their difference, some keep it a closely guarded secret due to reactions they have had in the past.  If the new person gets the nice quiet desk in the corner, noise cancelling headphones and voice to text software when this is not the norm colleagues will ask. So it is good to be prepared.

The adjustments will not be an overnight fix.  Some may not work at all.  You will need to work together to assess what is working, what might need to be changed and what is not working.  I am a big fan of the Manger Tools 1-1 meeting – a weekly 30-minute meeting with each member of staff.  Use this weekly meeting to get to know your staff better, provide feedback on things that are going well and offer coaching with things that are causing them difficulty.

Exploring what other help is available

The British Dyslexia Association estimate that about 10% of the British population is dyslexic.  It is suggested that 20% of the US population could be dyslexic or neurodiverse.  The exact number is hard to define as a dyslexia diagnosis is a complicated thing. The likelihood is there are other dyslexics that you work with.

You may have a support group or and employee resource group (ERG) that offers guidance for dyslexic/neurodiverse/disabled staff. These can range from informal coffee club type gatherings to organizationally recognised bodies offering support and guidance to their members and the wider organisation. Explore with HR and colleagues what other help is available and make your member of staff aware.

If you don’t have an ERG why not suggest one is set up? They are a great vehicle for peer support.

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