How dyslexia should be managed at work

As its Dyslexia Awareness Week businesses are being encouraged to consider the effects dyslexia can have on their employees and how best to deal with this 

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Management Today

It’s a condition that’s often overlooked, ignored or even mocked though dyslexia is a condition that impacts more people than we may think and its handling in the workplace has improved.

Around 6.3m people – 10% of the UK population – suffer from dyslexia and, for four per cent of those it’s described as ‘severe’. Interestingly, research from Julie Logan, emeritus professor of entrepreneurship at Cass Business School, estimates that 20% of UK entrepreneurs are dyslexic; famous examples include Alan Sugar, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson, all of whom are very successful business people with dyslexia. Branson has admitted, “I was hopeless at school. I could never comprehend things like ‘net’ or ‘gross’. It wasn’t until I was 50 that somebody showed me a way of remembering it. Then I realised I was making much less money than I thought I was!”

Just what is dyslexia?

Contrary to popular belief, dyslexia isn’t just about having difficulty with words and numbers. Dyslexia is officially defined as ‘a learning difficulty which impacts literacy skills such as reading, spelling and numeracy’. People with dyslexia might well have dyscalculia (difficulties with numbers), but they may also have attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. As a result, those with dyslexia commonly have problems that affect a much broader area of their work, such as issues with concentration, short-term memory, organisation and time management. People with dyslexia can also appear to have problems with self-esteem.

Working at home or the office?

Many employees hide their strategies for coping with dyslexia; as a result, different forms of working may impact them in different ways. Research by the British Dyslexia Association, and other Specific Learning Differences, found concentration improved when working from home, as opposed to open-plan offices, though the research also warned managers against a catch-all working arrangement. It found 70% of people believed more emails and online chats were challenging for them, and a further 72% found it harder to ask colleagues for support. Importantly, managers should recognise the potential benefits of neurodiversity that those who are dyslexic can bring.

“What should be remembered is that dyslexic individuals typically have strengths in a range of competencies, such as analytical thinking, creativity and innovation,” says Ben Cooke, chair of EY’s Dyslexia Community. “These competencies have been identified by the World Economic Forum in the ‘emerging’ top 10 that will be required in the workplace.”

What we can do to help?

Dyslexic people often struggle with remembering and following verbal instructions; as a result, it’s best to provide both written and verbal communication. In order to manage organisational difficulties, brief, daily meetings are a great way to remind staff their tasks and priorities. Finally, in order not to stifle the creativity of dyslexic employees, it’s a great idea to encourage their suggestions and solutions to problems that arise!

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