Some corporate industries are highly structured, and all employees know exactly what’s expected of them at all times. Communication is clear and concise, deadlines are firm, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room for out-of-the-box thinking.
While neurotypical employees may feel a bit hemmed in by working in this type of environment, ADHD employees might thrive on the routine, structure, and clear guidelines. Furthermore, autistic employees would always know what was expected of them, and incidents of miscommunication would be far and few in between.
Other industries are the opposite–very open and casual, with employees coming and going at all hours, dressing casually five days a week, and even rollerblading around the office!
For the ADHD neurotype, this environment may spark creativity but lack the structure necessary to create and plan a functional work schedule.
Moreover, autistic workers may stumble into a host of confusing miscommunications in an environment like this, as it may prioritize social capital over a traditional office command structure.
Thankfully, most places of business fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
Clear Instructions, Flexible Schedules, and Firm Deadlines
Much of the content I’ve written on Specialisterne follows a similar theme–breaking down the importance of a functional combination of structure and flexibility as this approach creates a safer and more easily navigable workplace for neurodivergent people.
This is why I strongly advocate for the structure of clear instructions and feedback as well as the flexibility of remote work options and flexible schedules.
Another component that falls into the ‘structure’ category is firm deadlines.
In office settings where neurotypical is the dominant neurotype, verbal requests can come across as casual suggestions rather than orders, which can be confusing for those of us who take verbal communication at face value.
For example, if a supervisor says, “Finish this report when you get the chance”, that’s probably what an autistic employee is literally going to do. They won’t prioritize the task or change their routine in any way because they weren’t explicitly asked.
If the supervisor comes back in a couple of days looking for the finished report and finds the autistic employee hasn’t even started on it yet, she may think he is being insubordinate or lazy, when what really happened is that she didn’t communicate her needs and expectations in a neuroinclusive way.
This is why firm deadlines are important. Like instructions and feedback, this information also needs to be just as clear and concise. If you need a project done in two days maximum, let your employee know. Tell them verbally and follow up with an email reminder. Be clear.
Offer a Firm Deadline Even When You Don’t Have One
Let’s say you’re not really concerned with when a particular project gets done, and you convey this. This could still be unsettling for your autistic and ADHD employees, especially if they thrive on routine and structure.
I know, personally, I need to have at least an approximate deadline for projects so I can plan the rest of my schedule around them. Moreover, because of my ADHD, I need to mark something on a calendar or reminder app to avoid forgetting about it altogether!
Don’t Expect Your Reputation to Proceed You
I think this is a missing component in office settings that isn’t verbalized or written out enough. While neurotypical brains are geared to understand and follow a social hierarchy, many autistic brains aren’t.
Let’s say you’re a manager who has high expectations and is known for a no-nonsense, get-it-done-now approach. Everyone in the office is aware of this (or so it seems), so you settle into the idea that you can soften your stern approach by using indirect language, all the while knowing full well that as soon as you ask for something, it will be done quickly and efficiently–no questions asked.
In other words, your reputation proceeds you in the eyes of neurotypical employees whose brains automatically pick up the context cues and chain of command.
Enter the unfortunate autistic employee who is new to working with you and knows nothing of your managerial style.
You say, “Get to it when you get to it” with a steely look in your eye and a slightly-firmer-than-necessary shoulder squeeze that means business, but your autistic employee takes in only your words–having avoided direct eye contact because it’s painful, not reading anything from the shoulder squeeze, and being oblivious to the unspoken rules.
In other words, the autistic employee can’t “read the room”, so, in order to be fair and inclusive, you’ll have to meet them halfway by being clear and concise in all of your communication.
Firm deadlines are important because they provide structure, detail, and expectations that are clearly laid out. They also reduce frustration, embarrassment, and lost productivity. When your employees don’t have to waste energy worrying about where they stand, they’re free to dive into projects and produce their best work–and that’s beneficial to them and your bottom line!