The Acas Podcast

3/18/2021

The business of mental wellbeing - with Fujitsu

Does investing in mental wellbeing really bring business benefits? We’re joined by Sarah-Jane Littleford, Head of Responsible Business at Fujitsu Global Delivery in the second of three episodes featuring stories from employers working to improve mental health at work. Sarah-Jane shares:How it makes business sense for Fujitsu to invest in the mental wellbeing of their people.How Fujitsu’s approach to wellbeing has shifted during the pandemicHer insights on what’s made the biggest differenceEpisode resources:For more information on supporting mental health during coronavirus, visit: www.acas.org.uk/mental-health-resourcesFor in depth analysis, in our latest policy paper, Adrian Wakeling explores the impact that COVID-19 is having on how workplaces support mental health. To contact an Acas adviser for specialist support, get in touchTranscriptSarahGuthrieWelcome to the Acas Podcast. My name is Sarah Guthrie. We are the workplace experts and our aim is to make working life better for everyone in Britain. This episode is the second in a series of three looking at practical examples of how employers have supported mental health and well being at work. In the first episode, we heard from Martin Short at the Ministry of Defense, and this episode, I'm delighted to be joined by Sarah-Jane Littleford, who is head of responsible business at Fujitsu global delivery. So thanks so much for joining us today, Sarah-Jane.Sarah-JaneLittlefordHappy to be here. Thank you.SarahSo we're going to be talking in this episode about why Fujitsu thinks it's worth investing in staff well being, what the benefits have been, how you do it, how Fujitsu does it, and what other workplaces can learn from this. But Sarah-Jane, I wonder if you could start off by just telling us what your role is at Fujitsu Global Delivery.Sarah-JaneYeah, so as you said, I'm head of responsible business for a region of Fujitsu that we call global delivery. So global delivery is, as it suggest, aglobal part of our business. It covers eight countries, right across the world, from Costa Rica in the West, all the way to Philippines and the east. And it's the part of our business where we deliver services to our customers, we do provide multilingual 24, seven service desks. But beyond that, we also provide a lot of technical services, like remote infrastructure, management, r&d, all the technical stuff that goes on behind the scenes that makes a business function. There's about 15,000 people. My role as head of responsible business basically means that I work with all of the countries and local teams to set strategy for corporate social responsibility.SarahHow did you personally get into well being and thinking about that as a topic?Sarah-JaneFundamentally, it was because it was handed to me in my role of responsible business. And that was my first introduction to wellness in a corporate context. For me, personally, it's always been a huge part of my life. And mental health was increasingly important, as I grew older, primarily because I did a PhD. And for anyone listening who has gone through that process, it's an incredibly humbling time. It's a mammoth project that you're delivering on your own, under your own steam, completely dreamed up by yourself. So it's an incredibly stressful time, at least, it was for me. So I learned a lot about mental health personally, during that time. And then I was able to bring that self knowledge, at least, to my role at Fujitsu. And I've been learning so much from my colleagues and from experts, including at Acas over the past few years.SarahSo before we get into the how of supporting mental health and wellbeing, I'm wondering, what have been the benefits of Fujitsu investing in this?Sarah-JaneI think it is fundamentally clear that mental wellness is a strategic enabler for business. A report came out from Deloitte, Gosh, a year ago now, January 2020, that demonstrated that for every pound that you spend on staff well being, you get a five pound return for employers. It's just- you can't argue with the fact that putting time and attention into wellbeing delivers huge benefits for the business. But we also recognize that as an employer, we have a responsibility to offer help and support for our employees. And that responsibility is something that we take really seriously. Particularly over the past year, employee wellbeing has become so highly critical. And we've put a lot of energy and focus into that. We've brought together multiple different teams, so not only responsible business, but also HR, operational teams, our health and safety teams, to make sure that we are delivering something for our employees that is meaningful and impactful. And deals with all of the aspects of personal health. So yes, that is mental health, but it's also physical health and social health.SarahIt sounds like, particularly during the pandemic, that you've been working across different teams within Fujitsu to look at the whole picture, not just the mind and the mental part of what it means to feel well.Sarah-JaneYes, definitely, since April 2020, which is the start of our financial year, we've delivered over 250 virtual wellbeing activities, which is a massive shift from how we used to deliver wellbeing activities. And that is over 10,000 hours of activities, which is about a 300% increase compared to the same period last year. So yeah, it's huge. It's not only the fact that we want to deliver these, but our employees really enjoy participating in them.SarahSo you've mentioned a whole bunch of activities that are in fact, 10,000 hours worth of activities. What would be your top recommendations of things that employers can do to support employee wellbeing, what do you think has made the most difference?Sarah-JaneSo I would say that you have to fundamentally start from the right place. And for us, this has been using trust as a standard. So we set out to empower our employees. As they work from home, they set their own schedules, they work based on home needs, like childcare. And our employees trust us. We had said at the beginning of the pandemic, that we wouldn't make redundancies across Fujitsu global delivery. So they knew they could continue to rely on employment, and not feel vulnerable in that way. And we do continually build our systems around supporting our workers to give them everything that they need remotely. So starting with the baseline of mutual trust, I think is really fundamental. And then from there, something that we have found hugely helpful was we launched an employee assistance program covering all of our global delivery locations, those 15,000 people, at the end of December 2020. We see significant usage of the online resources of the webinars, and also of the calling services, just since it launched a few months ago. I would say something that is also really important to do is to continually check in with employees. So we ran a dedicated COVID-19 employee survey actually a few months ago, to get employee feedback on the measures that we implemented. And this did show us that employees really felt protected, they were happy with what was being provided by Fujitsu they felt cared for. And we've seen a significant rise in our employee communication scores as well. So that is fundamentally important. That clear lines of communication.SarahI'm wondering, in this journey of setting trust is a standard and communicating that care what kind of challenges if you come across.Sarah-JaneSo there have been challenges in that we operate across very different cultural environments. So in some environments, there is already an openness to talk about mental health, and that is very acceptable in the national culture. Other countries where we operate, it's much more challenging to have these conversations about mental health. And indeed, the term mental health has some stigma attached to it itself. So we do try to use the term mental wellbeing as a way to be more open, and to be more inclusive of multiple different people across the world. Another thing we have struggled with is that we developed an absolutely fantastic training course for our managers. And we did this in collaboration with Acas. And it was a day long face to face training, where we really worked with our people, managers, to open them up to talking about mental well being to equip them with the tools to feel comfortable doing this. And also to make sure that they are aware of all the resources that were available in their locations that they could direct their teams to. Obviously with a pandemic, we weren't able to do that face to face delivery anymore. So we really have to think quite hard about how do we adapt this to be delivered virtually. What are all of the things that we have to change - the adaptations that we have to make in a virtual environment, where talking about these controversial or difficult topics over video are very difficult. So that was another thing that we did have to contend with. But I'm happy to say that we have been able to make that adaptation. And we are now delivering that training course virtually.SarahWhat do you feel in those discussions that you've learned through that process that can help others also struggling with that common challenge for people working remotely?Sarah-JaneSo I think the pandemic really outlined an opportunity for us to think about what wellbeing training means. And we've realized that we need to shift our focus a little bit more, to not look at those kind of standard topics of anxiety, stress awareness. But to talk more about resilience. This is such an important topic. Because we want to equip all of our employees to be resilient to face challenges and to bounce back and to keep going with a healthy mental attitude. And that's really what resilience is all about. So we are rolling out new training courses to help our employees gain more knowledge on this on how to deal with rough terrain, but still protecting their mental health. So it's not just about crisis responding, but it's about long term health and wellness.SarahIt's interesting, thinking about the word resilience, which is perhaps a positive attribute that we are wanting to grow and that we can develop, as opposed to stress, which is a negative symptom that we want to minimize. And am I right in thinking that maybe resilience - because of that - is easier to deal with virtually as a topic, as opposed to the more crisis, acute language around stress and anxiety?Sarah-JaneI think you're absolutely right, Sarah. Yeah, I think that's really true.SarahAnd you mentioned that different cultures have different attitudes towards the word mental health, and that you've adapted your language to make it as inclusive as possible in a global organization. I'm just wondering whether you come across people in your day to day work that do have a stigma attached to talking about this, and how you go about bringing them on a journey of being open to talking about it?Sarah-JaneSo I think the most important part of that is showing that this is something that our senior leadership team can and can be and are open about. I think there's a real value to seeing senior people in an organization, talk about topics that might be controversial or taboo in some parts of the world. Because talking about something means that it exists, and it's okay that it exists. So for example, one of our senior leaders has been very open about their mental health, talking about their anxiety and how this leads to trouble sleeping. People who feel the same or similar, can say to themselves, okay, I'm not alone. This is all right. And then that's the first step on to taking action to improve personal outcomes, right, you have to acknowledge that something is there before you can take any action to improve it. So I think for those regions of the world where there is a bit of stigma attached to the concept of mental health, mental ill health, seeing other people being open and talking about it makes a huge difference.SarahI can imagine as well that that's true of not just obvious differences between cultures, but also even within a completely UK based organization, everyone will have their own personal culture and history and their own level of comfortability with talking about this. So looking to the year ahead, we don't know much but we do know that there's likely to be a lot of change and uncertainty, what would be your advice for employers listening to this or managers on how they can support well being in this quiet, uncertain time?Sarah-JaneSo I think it's important to highlight that wellbeing is not just for the HR departments to focus on. It should be at the top of every line managers mind. I think that was driven home for us in Fujitsu global delivery by our kind of initial crisis response to COVID. We moved our 15,000 people to home working over the space of about 10 days. That was everyone, all of the departments coming together to get people home that really emphasized that well being is not just an HR concern. Focusing on the safety of our employees, bringing everyone together meant that we could deliver and continue to deliver high quality services for our customers. So it really is that connection of employee well being with high quality output for our customers.SarahSo it's about treating wellbeing not just as something that HR deals with, but thinking about it in the round and trying as best you can to draw together the different departments and people within your organization's so that you can think holistically about wellbeing rather than putting it in a silo over in HR, or for volunteers.Sarah-JaneExactly. Yeah. If we're talking about investing in customer experience, this necessarily means investing in employee wellbeing, because you have a more motivated and more empowered workforce that can really meet the needs of your customers.SarahIt's been great to hear from your experience at Fujitsu, Sarah Jane, thank you so much for joining us today.Sarah-JaneThank you so much Sarah.SarahThis has been the Acas podcast. If you're looking for more support and ideas on supporting positive mental health, then do check out our website, I've put the links in the Episode Notes. And also we have a policy paper if you're looking for more in depth analysis of how Coronavirus has impacted how organizations supporting mental health at work. If you're looking for more specialist support then we have a whole range of fantastic advisors who do bespoke work around this. So please do get in touch. I've put the contact details for that as well in the Episode Notes. Thanks for listening.
2/19/2021

Workplace wellbeing strategy in practice: the Ministry of Defence

How does a large, complex organisation create a coherent mental wellbeing strategy that works? In the first of three episodes showcasing employers taking action on wellbeing, we’re joined by Martin Short, Head of Wellbeing, Inclusion and Diversity at the Defence Intelligence unit, which is part of the Ministry of Defence.This episode is for leaders, managers and advocates for mental health in the workplace. You’ll hear how Martin created a wellbeing strategy with distinct stages, what actions made a difference, and how you can influence others in your organisation to make wellbeing a priority.Episode resources:The Acas Framework for Positive Mental HealthFive ways to wellbeingHeadspaceMental health first aidSpeak to an Acas adviser for tailored supportTranscript SarahHello and welcome to the Acas podcast, I'm Sarah Guthrie, we are Acas, the workplace experts. And today I'm here with Martin Short, who is head of well being diversity and inclusion at the Defense Intelligence Unit, which is part of the Ministry of Defense. We are talking about mental health today. And what we really wanted to do at Acas is give real life examples of organizations who have headed this question of wellbeing face on and have created strategies and actions which have improved wellbeing in their organizations. So I'm delighted to be joined by Martin who we've worked with over the past year or two on mental health. Martin, to start off, I wondered if you could just explain what Defense Intelligence is? Because I certainly did not know before meeting you.MartinSure, Sarah, Well, I mean, intelligence itself is really just the sort of art or the science of helping people make better decisions. And so Defense Intelligence is a large business unit within the Ministry of Defense, and it provides an intelligence function for MoD, so it helps MoD and other government departments make better decisions. And we do that, in order to enable military operations or activities. Sometimes it's disaster relief, sometimes it's provision of aid to other countries, but we provide planning information that actually helps the government run operations.SarahThat sounds like very significant work, and I'm guessing it can be stressful for your employees. How did you get involved in wellbeing Martin initially?MartinI think my journey, really, I've done a number of different jobs in the MoD, I've worked abroad for best part of a decade as well, and I sort of came to a point really, it was probably around sort of 2015 or 2016, where, you know, I've been used to sort of seeing, you know, the normal stresses that you get in any workplace, really, you know. We've got staff that have to work to tight tight deadlines, particularly when they're working on crises. Quite often, you know, our specialists are only one deep and so, you know, we can put quite a lot of pressure on particular individuals, and, and also, you know, we've got the impact of constant change, you know, we're trying to date deal with emerging threats, you know, that the world doesn't stay static for any length of time nowadays. And so, that constant change that happens within organizations having to adapt to, you know, the macro environment as well, that can cause stressors for staff as well. But I mean, I think there are also particular sort of issues within organizations such as Defense Intelligence, because there are security concerns, you know, some of the material that we work with, we can't talk about. And so if B, if staff have had a particularly stressful day, it's not always possible to offload to friends or families in the way that might be in other organizations. In terms of effort to sort of de-stigmatize mental health, you know, such staff sometimes worry that if they, you know, fess up to a mental health condition, it might in some way affect their security clearances, and therefore, their job security. So we have sort of issues like that. But also, you know, we have to deal with some pretty unpleasant material from across the world, you know, we have to monitor the aftermath of terrorist attacks. So sometimes our staff have to go through visual material, which is potentially very injurious to mental health. And that's, you know, where they certainly need a little bit of extra support. And you know, where we really need to sort of focus on helping staff develop the skills they need to manage their mental health more effectively.SarahAnd so, back in 2015, you were noticing these issues and wondering what you could do about them?MartinI think I became concerned about the just the lack of resources that we had in that particular area. So back then we didn't have a wellbeing set up within the organization, there was no real sort of depth and sort of mental health support at all. And so we really started looking at different ways in which we could provide that support. And I actually became sufficiently interested enough to take an 18 months secondment out of the organization. And I spent that time working with what works center for wellbeing. So I did that, I came back to the organization, I persuaded the head of the organization that because of some of the challenges that we had, it was well worth investing in this area. And you know, to his eternal credit, he listened. And we kicked that off in 2018. And we've been going ever since then, really.SarahAnd so from that, the obvious question is, so what did you do?MartinWell, we realized that we had to sort of learn how to walk before we could run with this. When we started, we didn't really have a corporate understanding of what we meant by wellbeing within the organization. And in particular, you know, I think a lot of people thought it was something rather soft and fluffy. And so there was a lot of work to actually expose the, you know, the current wealth of wellbeing evidence that's out there to staff, and help them understand that well being is something that mattered not just to individuals. It wasn't just a question of feeling happy in the workplace, but that there were hard business benefits to it as well. So that educate bit was really important, because it just enabled us to get to a sort of common understanding of what by what we meant by wellbeing. So we could then start to have better informed higher quality conversations. Now the other thing, because we're dispersed across dozens of different sites, I didn't know who was doing what at which site in wellbeing. And so we had another activity that we called connect, which was really just about identifying all the stakeholders who had an interest in wellbeing. And anyone who had an interest in wellbeing we pulled together and we formed them into a single stakeholder group. And that was the community that I created to work with over the course of the full program. And then the final one was measurement. We recognized the data that we had on well being was actually very low quality. And we knew that if we wanted to make improvements, we needed to get some sort of benchmark from which we could measure. And so we actually used a tool that was developed by the what work center for well being, and that actually created the benchmark we are now currently using to measure the effect of the interventions that we make as we go through the next few years. So that first stage of getting the basics right with its sub every element of educate, connect, and measure that was absolutely critical to it.SarahSo there were these first phases of educate, connect and measure, just on the definition of wellbeing, what definition did you end up using?MartinI pulled it through from the what works work center for wellbeing because I, it's nice and simple. Well being for us, really, is simply how we feel we're doing, you know, as a nation, as communities, and as an individuals. How sustainable it is for the future. So it's very subjective in nature. And if you think about it, you know, the same situation can produce completely different well being outcomes in two different individuals, you know, one person might, you know, really like a particular environment, someone else might not like it at all. And so that's subjective nature of well, being the experiential angle of it, I think it's a really important one to recognize, you know, we're all different. And I think, you know, perhaps looking at the COVID experience, you know, you can see that some people have breezed through it without, you know, any ill effect whatsoever, other people have had an absolutely awful time through it. So again, that same sort of macro experience can have very, very different impact on individuals. And I think recognizing that well being is a subjective experience, and people can react differently to different situations, I think it's a really important one to try and acknowledge if you want to do something about it.SarahIt's interesting, Martin, that definition of well being. When I think of the MoD, I think of a macho culture. I'm wondering, when you started that initial phase, did you get pushback on wellbeing as a word, either from employees or from managers who didn't think it should be a priority?MartinI think it's so it's always had a right, you know, until probably about 10 years back, I think it's, you know, wellbeing's had a reputation of being something a little bit soft, fluffy and intangible. But I think what has changed over the past 10 years, is just the sort of volume of research that's now starting to indicate the, you know, there are real connections between workforces that have higher levels of well being and much, much better business outcomes. So, you know, there's already lots of evidence to, you know, show that, you know, higher levels of well being have an impact on performance, on productivity, on creativity, on resilience. And I think, particularly for our organization, you know, we're constantly having to respond to evolving threats. There's a lot of uncertainty in our business as well. And so we want people to, you know, to be innovative, to be creative, to come up with new ways of doing things. Because if we don't actually have a workforce that will experiment, wil try something new, then, you know, we stand very little chance of being able to evolve and, you know, meet the threats that are actually sort of that are actually out there. Yes, I think, you know, I think the military does has a reputation of being a macho culture, but I do think an awful lot has changed over the past, you know, couple of decades or so. So I do think the times are changing with that. But you know, MoD is a huge organization and, you know, change in any big organization is it's like turning an oil tanker. So it does take time. But I think we are heading in a good direction now.SarahAnd you began trying to shift that oil tanker with these phases of educate, connect measure. Moving on from that, what were the strategies, or what were the actions that you took to improve well being across the organization?MartinWe did take a structured approach. And I'll put in a plug for the ACAS mental health model, because we found that incredibly useful. So for those who don't actually know what it is, it basically breaks down what can potentially be a very complex workplace well being model, you know, when you look at well, being a well being challenge in its entirety, it can be quite daunting. But what what I did find that the ACAS model enabled us to do was break it down into manageable chunks. So that was to really look at, you know, what we could do to with at the individual level, what we could do at the manager level, and what we could do at the organization level. So the individual level was really about helping individuals develop the skills and resources they needed to better look after themselves. The manager level, it was about developing managers skills and awareness, so they could better promote well being a team level. And at the organizational level, it was about ensuring that well being considerations are applied to policies, processes and structures within the organization. So we actually have a culture the cultural series of cultural habits that enhance well being rather rather than sap it so breaking it, you know, that complex wellbeing puzzle into those three chunks, we found very helpful indeed, because it just made it a lot easier to manage.SarahSo thinking about someone who's listening to this, who gets that this is a priority, what kind of maybe quick wins, might they be able to put in place, say in the next two months to six months that would really support their people's well being in what is undeniably a very stressful time?MartinSure. Well, I mean, I think, you know, let's go back to the a caste model with it. Because I do think it's helpful to look at, you know, what you can do individual manager and organizational levels. So, I think the one thing that I think underpins everything else is destigmatization, you know, I think all organizations need a culture where people have no embarrassment about talking about mental health, that, you know, people are happy and comfortable talking to managers or Mental Health First Aiders, when they get into struggling territory, and know that they're going to get the support that they need to get them, you know, up and running again as quickly as possible. So at the individual level, the basic framework that we use, and I think this is a really quick win for any organization is just adopting the five ways to wellbeing. This is a framework that's used, really as the sort of, you know, core healthy habits, sort of advice from the NHS. And it's really just a series of five habits, or you know, whether it's a really good evidence base to show that the more you can build into your daily routine, the greater the sort of beneficial effect on your well being, we did a mindfulness offer. So we partnered up with headspace on that they produce some metrics every month, I find that quite useful, because I'm able to see what packs people within the organization are accessing. And throughout COVID, the two big ones have been stress and sleep. So again, that gives me a sort of a bit of an indication of the sort of support that staff are looking for from within the organization. It's not exactly a quick win, but Mental Health First Aid. We've got a network of instructors now we feel that's really changed the dynamic on discussions of mental health within the organization. So it really helps with that destigmatization at the manager level. Probably a little bit more difficult, but I think anything that you can do to increase awareness and confidence of managers to talk about mental health issues, so whether that's mental health awareness, training, mental health, first aid training, all that stuff's going to help. And I think the other thing in terms of recognition and reward, we do have managers who do that little extra bit to actually make the workplace environment, you know, happier, healthier, more fulfilling place for staff then recognized and that's a very easy thing for organizations to do. So if you've got a manager who achieves results by cracking the whip harder, they're probably not the people you want to be rewarding. And I think at the organizational level, you know, what we did was we made sure that well being diversity and inclusion were permanently established as routine agenda items in all our senior management boards. We put in a mandatory objective each year to encourage people to get involved in well being and diversity in Inclusion activity. And that also provided a map mechanism, again, to say thank you to those people who did that a little bit extra went above and beyond, you know, for the sake of their communities and their teams. And then I think the final thing that we tried to do really not exactly a quick win was actually incorporating wellbeing training in through career training.SarahWhat strikes me listening to you is that you're not really thinking about mental health as this thing over here, that happens in a box that you've got your mental First Aiders on to kind of, you know, sort the symptoms. You're thinking, "Well, what else in the organization is increasing or decreasing the likelihood that someone feels good about their work? And how could what action can we take to increase the likelihood that they feel good and recognized and valued in their work?" Because you know that that will impact on their well being?MartinI think so. So yeah, I think also, is, there's a little bit there on where you put well being. So you know, I think a lot of organizations have thought, "Now wellbeing, yes, it's about people, isn't it, so, you know, probably naturally fits into HR." But when you actually look at, you know, what drives well being the cultural aspects, I think it's far more sensible for organizations to look at treating well being as a foundation stone of their culture, you know, it's not a little hang on that you put into sort of HR, it, it is the very essence of your organizational culture. So, there is that need in any organization to feel that the workplace is fair, that, you know, you will be recognized for, you know, for effort that you put in, it's not, it's not going to be claimed by someone else, you'd like to feel part of something bigger, knowing that your contribution is actually sort of helping and, you know, helping a much, much bit, sort of a bigger aspect of work. And so I think, you know, that, that that positioning does become very important. I think, also, you know, well being, it's a sort of relatively late comer to organizations. And I think initially, a lot of the stuff we do is reactive, so we wait for people to develop a mental health problem, and then we try and fix it. I think as well being programs mature in organizations, they would be far better advised to actually start switching activity to the preventative, you're always going to need the reactive because, you know, we all have mental health. Sometimes we're great, you know, sometimes we're okay, sometimes we're struggling, and sometimes we're ill. But I do think that, you know, as you know, well being sort of effort matures within organizations, they're gonna need to look a lot more at the preventative side of it.SarahThanks so much, Martin, that's been great to hear how you've approached well being in such a huge and complex organization like the mid breaking it down into these chunks and phases, thinking about what could support well being at these different levels of the organization, the manager and individuals. There's such a lot of food for thought in there about what drives good well being and how culture affects that and how we need to shift from preventing poor mental health rather than just treating symptoms. So thank you so much, Martin. This has been the best podcast, I've put links to some of the resources Martin mentioned, like the five ways to wellbeing and the Episode Notes and of course, the A CAS model. We hope you find them useful. And please don't hesitate to get in touch with a cast if you're looking for help with improving mental health in your organization. Thanks for listening.
11/3/2020

Thinking differently about neurodiversity

Whether or not you’re up to date with the language aroundneurodiversity, ADHD, autism, dyslexia and other terminology, most workplaces include people who think differently, and who might be part of a neurominority. To help us demystify neurodiversity and get proactive, we’re joined by Dr Nancy Doyle, CEO and founder of Genius Within, Adrian Ward, Head of Disability Partnerships at the Business Disability Forum and Erin Fulton-McAlister, Acas workplace adviser. We look at:What neurodiversity isWhy we need to pay attention to itCreating a workplace that celebrates and capitalises on neurodiversityEpisode resourcesAcas neurodiversity guidanceBDF & Genius Within Commissioning framework and how to commission guideContact an Acas adviserfor a free advisory conversation Related Acas podcast - disabilityOrganisations:AcasBusiness Disability ForumGenius WithinTranscript SarahGuthrieWelcome to the Acas Podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie and today we're focusing on neurodiversity. What is it, why it matters in the workplace, and how workplaces can support neurodiversity in meaningful and practical ways. I'm joined by Dr. Nancy Doyle, Chief Exec and founder of Genius Within, which provides evidence-based neurodiversity inclusion, Adrian Ward, head of disability partnerships at the Business Disability Forum, which brings together business government and disabled people to create a disability smart world and Erin Fulton-McAlister, workplace advisor at Acas. Thanks for joining me today.Adrian Ward, Erin Fulton-McAlister and Dr NancyDoyleNo problem.SarahSo there's lots of different language around neurodiversity and the language shifts a lot, which we've all discussed actually in the past. And I, I wondered if we could start with that in mind. Very simply, what is it that we're talking about when we use words like neurodiversity? Nancy, do you want to kick us off?NancyI do. Yeah. Thank you. So I think, broadly speaking, the word neurodiversity relates to the idea that we are all diverse, that there is cognitive diversity in the strengths and weaknesses of the human species. Some of us are good at most things. Some of us are good at specialist things to the exclusion of other things. And we have this kind of range of what's possible in our human thinking and skill and ability profile. And sometimes the word neurodiversity gets used as a proxy for a handful of conditions that are often known by other titles as well, such as neurodevelopmental disorders, hidden disabilities, specific learning disabilities. My working title for those at the moment is neurominorities, because they are less likely than being a neurotypical. So if you are a neurotypical, it means that broadly speaking, you're competent in all areas of thinking, you know, you're kind of average in all areas of thinking, or maybe you're above average. If you are in a neurominority, it means you have some specialist thinking skills and some specific difficulties. And that includes ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia. And those are the main inclusions. We sometimes also include tic disorders such as Tourette's, we sometimes also include mental health and chronic neurological conditions. Because like the others, what happens when you have those conditions, is you end up with a big difference between your skills and your weaknesses. So because of the weaknesses, neurominorities are typically covered by Equality Act protection and disability legislation worldwide. But it's important to remember that those conditions come with strengths as well.SarahThanks, Nancy. That's a really kind of holistic introduction. What struck me when you were talking is that this is an umbrella term, it is in itself diverse. And I wondered, how does that diversity of the difference between ADHD and dyslexia affect how people identify with and see this as something that they need to think about?NancySo concepts like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia are very much diagnoses of exclusion. They're things that we decide people have when we've exhausted all possible other explanations for difficulties in scale or behavior. And actually, the science of those categories is moving on incredibly quickly at the moment. And there are some evidence from neuroimaging studies, that actually that the kind of brain differences are not that great, and that those conditions have more in common than they do have separate and actually what we currently call a diagnosis of dyspraxia or dyslexia might really be a symptom cluster. And, and from my own professional practice working with thousands of neurominorities over the last few decades, I would say that people come to the workplace with very similar problems. So 92% of my clients, no matter which label or brand they are associated with, 92% of them struggle with memory and concentration. 82% struggle with organisation, 78% with time and 67% with communication skills, and I've run this study over thousands of thousands of participants, and it's always about those numbers. So I think from a business perspective, what's more useful, rather than trying to think, "Autistic people will need this" or "Dyslexic people will need that" or, you know, or even to think that an autistic person doesn't have dyslexic symptoms or that an ADHD person isn't also slightly dyspraxic. So instead of getting hung up over labels, what's more important is just to say, "How can I support you to work at your best? What are the things that you're doing really well? What are the things that you're struggling with? What kind of reasonable adjustments what we might be put in, to scaffold you and augment you and to enable you to really thrive in the workplace?" And we can ask that question without detailed descriptions of conditions, and what may or may not be happening in the brain.AdrianYeah, I mean, just to jump on the back of what Nancy said there in complete agreement. And it's a lot of the work we do, with the organisations that we work with, is actually trying to change that culture of either trying to get a diagnosis or trying to pigeonhole or label people into either particular roles or particular solutions for those individuals. And, and actually encouraging them to think more about barriers that they might be encountering, how to remove those barriers, the support that an individual might require, etc etc. So really flipping the thought process from not trying to label and pigeonhole to actually just ask what does an individual need to be able to flourish in the role that they're in?ErinYeah, I completely agree. And I think that, from an Acas point of view, a lot of what we're going to be talking about is really just good management. And it's about supporting people as individuals, rather than because they have a label.NancyAnd there is a tricky balance in this because, you know, when we go a little bit wide of "This affects everybody, everybody is neuro diverse neuro diversity of everybody. It's about asking all individuals and good management," which I 100% endorse. And I think people could get very tied up worrying about whether they're doing the right thing or not. And actually, if they were just doing good management, it would probably be okay. But what we do have to remember with neurodiversity and neurominorities, is that a lot of the time, these are disabling conditions. And somebody said to me, once, "Well, we all have difficulty concentrating sometimes." And I said, "What you've just said, to me, as a woman with ADHD, is the equivalent of me saying to you, as a woman using a wheelchair, we all have trouble walking sometimes." There are statistically significant differences in people's skill levels. That means the things that we do as managers - our legal obligations - they're not nice to have, they are good management, but they are also legal obligations. And when we don't do them, we are not creating the level playing field that we want to create for all our employees. So they're not preferences, their requirements. And the kind of things that I would draw attention to are things like, you know, allowing people to not abide by a hot desking policy, if you are very easily distracted, or you know, have that kind of high sensory awareness that comes with autism, you might find there's a certain point in the office where it's quiet enough for you to focus and concentrate. And you might simply be unable to do that, unless you're at that point in the office. So an organization might allow you to choose your desks, they might allow you to work from home more frequently, they might allow you to book out a meeting room, if you had to do a report that you were really concentrating on or wear earphones to cut out background noise. So there's, there's lots of things people can do. And they might look like preferences. But it's the difference between functioning and not functioning, as opposed to being a little bit annoyed and being a little bit, you know, okay.SarahSo there's a very clear difference in severity, almost?NancyYeah, yeah. Yeah, people aren't choosing to stop concentrating, people aren't choosingto take longer over typo checking and writing and reading through edits, they're not doing that deliberately. It's not because they're...they haven't got a moral character deficit, it's not that they need to try harder or shape up or put a bit more effort in, it's that the parts of the brain do those particular functions aren't as well connected or don't work as well, or are too busy processing a whole load of other information that's coming in from the rest of the environment. So it's really important that people know that there are observable, measurable, definite brain differences. That means certain jobs are easy, and certain jobs are hard. And when we assign words like "prefer" or "try" or you know, "work a bit harder" around the things that people are deficient in, you know, it's like telling somebody who's deaf to listen harder.SarahAnd this might be quite an obvious question, because I feel like you're all bringing up elements of it anyway. But I wondered, Adrian, when you're talking to businesses about this topic, what do you say when they ask you, "Well, why do we need to focus on this?"AdrianYeah, and it does definitely come up as a as a question. It's difficult. In this world, when you work in this world, it becomes very glib just to come back with a, "Well, why wouldn't you?" kind of respond to that. I know that's not necessarily always helpful to get the right engagement. But one of the things I always say to an organization, you know, if you're truly committed to inclusion, you should be looking at how you attract, recruit, retain, and develop neurodiverse talent within your organization. So my biggest sort of push back and biggest sort of line I'll take with an organization is about tapping into the widest pool of talent you possibly can do. And if people need more information around that, and you know, I talk to people about actually, how health it is for an organization to have a workforce that has a real diverse range of thinking. So where people do think differently to others within the organization, where creative thinking is really encouraged and fostered and allowed to flourish within an organization, how some people are very solution focused and great problem solvers. Again, why wouldn't you want people with those sorts of skills within your organization, people that can massively grasp complex concepts very quickly? Again, why would you not want people with those sorts of skills within your organization. So it's trying to help organizations just think, wider than perhaps some of the stereotypes, some of the myths, some of those sort of .pigeon holed views.ErinThe other thing to bear in mind here is that the law says you have to. Being neurodivergent will usually amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. And this means that organizations have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace, and to the individual's role that will remove or minimize any disadvantage to that individual. So, yes, it is important from a legal point of view. And there are really potentially huge consequences if you ignore that point of view. But it's not only as Adrian's already said that there's a threat if you don't do it. There are huge advantages to your organization's if you do do it.SarahSo it's good for your business for your organization, and there's a legal obligation. How do you do that, then? What do you think are the main barriers for organizations? And how can we overcome them to create a workplace, which does help people thrive to their fullest potential?NancyI think that the majority of workplaces are reluctant to be flexible and change. And we've got to get a bit more creative about how we organize work. So you know, most office spaces, for example, are organized around the idea that clocks needed to be adjacent to paper ledgers. Because that's when they were invented in the sort of 1800s. And, actually, that's not really true in a remote working world. And we all know that now, because we've all just lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, or are still living through should I say., So there's a whole bunch of norms that we have assumed are reasonable. And so because we've designed our workplaces around those norms, that's where we're creating disability. We've assumed that all humans, in order to have value, must be able to spell and read efficiently, must be able to operate fine motor control devices, must be able to sit still and concentrate for hours at a time, and must be able to think well in busy, loud environments. And when you think about human evolution, and those particular characteristics of human behavior, they're actually not very typical at all. It's a bit weird! And as our workplaces continue to evolve and progress into the future of work, what we need to do is start designing work around the skills that we need, rather than the things that we're used to because we've always done them that way. So we can start with this idea of changing our systems and being systemically inclusive, and then personalized to what an individual needs. But whereas at the moment, what's happening is we don't think that we have to change our environments at all. And we're putting a lot of energy and effort into making an individual able to cope with it, but actually the environment might not be suitable for the workplace at all. I'd like to see in 20 years time whether we still need to sit still to concentrate at all. You know, will people that need to sit still have sedentary dependent concentration disorder instead of people that like to move having ADHD? You know, we could flip all of this on its head. Will people that only like to communicate using literacy rather than video communication be called hyperlexic dependent syndromes, you know? [Laughs] There's lots of ways we could flip this, but it's about I think, just really thinking about the work that you want and the performance that you need, and designing your jobs and environment around the output rather than the inputAdrianFor us and how we work organizations, we look across that kind of complete employee journey or life cycle and talk with organizations about whole range of things,but things like from the attraction candidates, making sure that recruitment processes are barrier free and as inclusive as possible. And then we will work with organizations around what are they doing that actually retains that talent once you've recruited them? So have you got that onboarding process right? Is it easy to get adjustments, and Nancy touched on the built environment. And one of my sort of big bugbears is around progression and development. I've certainly seen a tendency of actually the focus being on attracting candidates, getting candidates into roles, but then not necessarily really thinking about actually how they are developed and progress within that organization. So there's a whole range of areas that an organization should be thinking. But if they think about that employee lifecycle, from the point that they're attracted to make an application all the way through to how they can then flourish and progress within that organization, they're areas that we'd really encourage organizations to focus on.ErinAn example that I've come across is an organization who had an applicant who declared that they were autistic and requested that the panel avoid hypothetical questions. Now, I know that's one of the very common ones. But this organization decided that they would not do it for just that individual, they would do it for everybody in that recruitment round. And they, they did things like give all of the candidates the questions that they were going to ask 20 minutes before the interview itself, to give them an opportunity to think about their best examples, not just the first thing that comes to their head. They did an exercise in which they gave somebody a scenario that related to the job that they would be doing and asked them about that situation, and whether it was something that experienced before - which I realise sounds hypothetical, but in the situation wasn't. And what they found was that that recruitment process worked significantly better at getting good people in than their previous one had done. And actually, they've adopted that for all recruitment going forward across the entire organization.NancyJust wanted to come in on the point of kind of how do you know what you should be doing and trying this and asking people what they need, and having lists of things that you can try. And, and I see, you know, this is a big ongoing learning, and the big grey area in this is what is a reasonable adjustment? So we know that there are lots of things that you can do as adjustments, and not all of them will be reasonable for your organization to put in and where is that boundary of reasonable? And one of the things that I'm seeing a lot of at the moment, which I find really concerning, is where people are going for that advice. I worked with an assistive technology expert Neil Milliken and the Business Disability Forum to write a commissioning framework for commissioning neuro diversity inclusion services. Because it's a bit of a minefield! Do you need a psychologist, a mental health nurse, a professional coach, a teacher and educator, you know who's got the professional expertise in this field? It's really difficult. So we put together a commissioning framework, which kind of enables you to go through the main issues of risk, safeguarding, insurance, training, credibility, and work out whether - for the size of the project you've got or the you know, the need that you have in your organization - whether you're commissioning the right people. It's a really helpful resource. The BDF and Acas both provide excellent resources in this respect. It's about going for advice to people that can give you credible advice based on a wide range of experience and professional training, as opposed to their own anecdotal case study of one.SarahThank you, Nancy. And we will put a link to that in the episode notes for this episode. I think it's available for free for two weeks. So if you're listening to this, grab it while it's available. We've been talking a lot about what we can do now. But I'm very curious to know what you think we should be doing in the future. Where would you love to see us, the workplace, the future of the workplace move on this topic?NancySo I think where we're headed is universal design, systemic inclusion, I think we're still stuck in compliance based inclusion. So we're waiting for people to fail and then we're buffering around them. We've got quite a lot of token inclusion where we're bringing in groups of people that have specific conditions for specific skills, like autistic coders, which is sadly lacking ntersectional wisdom and tends to kind of repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat the same type of person. It's not really where we should be headed. The idea of systemic inclusion, where it's just the way things are done around here. So all of the things that my two colleagues on this call have said about kind of reviewing your policies, reviewing your structures, you know, really thinking about the the eventual eventual design, where we need to be headed is where this isn't a thing anymore. Where we don't have a diversity and inclusion team where, where disability support is part of the typical HR functionality. The kind of things you need, you can order from a stationary order, or are built into the training development program. And if you think about the prevalence, one of the things we've done looking at our cohorts over the last decade is notice that a sizeable proportion of our clients come to us for help when they're promoted. So it's on promotion, when all of a sudden their job role changes a little bit, or they have to do slightly different things, that's when they need adjustments and support. So rather than wait for people to fail, why don't we just say, "Okay, so as part of our new manager onboarding, we know that for about 15 to 20% of people, they're going to need extra support in these areas. So we built this into our manager onboarding, so on as our manager onboarding courses start, here's the specific ones around managing concentration time, here's your additional literacy resources from the assistive technology suite. Off you go."SarahThank you. Adrian.AdrianSo I think there's a, I'm sensing, I think there is a real opportunity to build on some of the momentum that appears to be there at the moment. It's about actually, how do we harness this real thirst for knowledge and information that's there at the moment, and keep that conversation going and evolving as much as we possibly can? And then my final sort of comment is that - perhaps it's more of a question than a comment. But I just wonder whether COVID and the pandemic and how that's changed how we work, whether that could or should create new and better opportunities moving forward.ErinSo I think what I would like to see would be, organizations get to a point where individuals feel confident in asking for support because of what they are seeing, because they believe that the organization really will be flexible and provide the adjustments that they need, without any kind of disadvantage to those individuals. I'd like to see line managers feel confident in providing that support and in having those conversations with members of their team. And not as a one off, but as an ongoing conversation and ongoing support. I would like to see colleagues within those teams get to a point where they feel that seeing their colleagues doing things differently, or perhaps being managed differently, is a sign of good management and a sign that they can ask for support if they need it as well, rather than unfair treatment. And ultimately, I'd like to see that organizations and individuals together will, through doing these sorts of things, reap the benefits of diversity.SarahThank you. That is a brilliant note to end on, which I am reluctant to do, as there's clearly more to discuss here. We've touched on some really big questions about the whole nature of work and how we design it. And that as well as we've been going big, we've also had some really good principles and insights like not getting hung up on labels, rethinking your systems and your policies, redesigning them, getting expert advice, and not relying on stereotypes or lived experience inappropriately. It's been a fascinating podcast. So Adrian, Nancy and Erin, thank you. This has been the Acas Podcast, I've put links to helpful resources on neurodiversity, including the neurodiversity commissioning framework that Nancy mentioned, which is available for free for two weeks. And we've also put some links to advice. If you're looking for bespoke support to help you increase your diversity and inclusion than Acas also offers free chats with advisors. If that's of interest to you, then I've put a link to the number and the contact form in the notes as well. Thanks for listening.