The Acas Podcast


Facing the juggle: carers, work and wellbeing in a pandemic

Juggling childcare or looking after others alongside working from home, without burning out, is a real struggle. Mental health expert Abigail Hirshman unpacks what employers, managers and carers themselves can and should do to build and support carers' wellbeing during coronavirus. 

Plus: what happens if we ignore this, the common mistakes employers make and how to broach the topic when you think your manager might not listen to you.

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You can also ring our helpline on 0300 123 1100.


Sarah Guthrie 0:00  

Welcome to the Acas Podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie, part of the communications team here at Acas. And today I'm joined by Abigail Hirshman, who is Head of Workplace Wellbeing and Mental Health at Acas. Thanks for joining me today. 

Abigail Hirshman 0:13  

Pleasure always to speak to you Sarah.

Sarah Guthrie 0:15  

So today we're focusing on mental health, particularly how we can support the mental health of people who are juggling caring responsibilities, and work, so, looking after children or other relatives during this period of lockdown. We've learned recently that schools are not opening fully until September. So I wondered if you could start off by saying what are the main challenges in relation to well being for people who are juggling, childcare and other caring responsibilities while working?

Abigail Hirshman 0:47  

Yeah, yes, absolutely. So that is quite a big question, though, isn't it really because I think even just hearing that message a couple of weeks ago about the fact that schools aren't opening as parents had anticipated, will have had an impact on people, would have made them think, "Oh my lord!" you know, some that expected maybe a bit of relief for a period of time, there is now a longer stretch. So it's really about how workplaces can think about how can they continue to support the employees to work, knowing that they can be continually caring for children. So the wellbeing impacts of this is not static, it will have gone up and down over the period. And it may have been at the beginning that people may have thought, "Well, actually, this is quite nice. I'm getting to spend some more time at home with my children." But as I said, as this has gone on, I think there have been further challenges for people. And, but I suppose what I was thinking about when we decided we were going to talk about this was whether it's worth just rewinding a little bit. And so if we think say back to maybe February, okay, so February of this year, so think maybe your care of two small children, and they go to school or nursery, and then someone says to you, "For the next six months, we need you to do your job from home." And you may think great "No, no more commuting, no more business suits, no more high heels. That's fantastic." But then at the same time, your manager or your employer says to you, "Well, actually, all schools and nurseries are going to close as well. So you can have to look after your small children whilst you work." And that's essentially what happened to people that this information was given to them. It wasn't the employers fault or the managers fault. But this information was suddenly given to a whole group of people in the workplace, that very quickly, they had to suddenly understand that basically, the world of work and the world of parenting became entirely combined. So I think what people had to do was to adapt really, really quickly. And I think from a positive perspective, we can say that employers have really benefited from a workforce it's met that challenge, you know, and continue to adapt. But as I said, there are going to be lots of peaks and troughs to that challenge, and it's how the employer and the manager and the individual navigate those different rises and falls as we carry on through this period.

Sarah Guthrie 3:01  

Yeah, that's really interesting. I wondered if you could maybe unpack a bit more of the impact if we - employers, line managers or individuals - do nothing about this?

Abigail Hirshman 3:16  

Right. Okay. That is an interesting question. So, as I said, you're now, you put, I always like to put myself in the heads of people who are in this experience or having experience I have got, I've got children at home, but they're a bit older, they're teenagers. And I think the challenges for parents with teenagers is different for parents of small children. So I think we have to recognize as an employer, that we have people with different, you know, family setups, so the employer that does nothing that ignores essentially that this person is doing their job was managing teenagers, young children, whatever it is, it's it's going to have massive consequences, isn't it? It's about that person is basically going to feel not recognized, and not understood, for the challenges that that's arising and lack of recognition and lack of being understood by your employer does have a massive impact on wellbeing and has an impact on motivation. So let's hope that there aren't many employers out there who are doing nothing. But I think what employers are grappling with is "What is the thing that we can do?" because those employers, again, like the parents, and the, you know, the mothers and the fathers and the carers had to adapt very quickly, employers have had to adapt very quickly, they've had to think about, "What can we do to continue to meet the business demands, given the fact that my business has moved to a totally different location and distributed location," but equally, "How can we continue to adapt? What can we do as a business to adapt?" So it's understandable that employers may not have been thinking about you know, John, and his two small kids or you know, or Sarah and her two small children, they're thinking about the business. So how can they have those conversations and understand what the challenges are for the people who are looking after small children, those conversations have to happen.

Sarah Guthrie 5:01  

Following on from that, what do you think are the main mistakes that employers are making when they're having those conversations with their staff?

Abigail Hirshman 5:12  

Well, I think employers and this is why I sort of went back a bit, this is why I went to this thing. Well, what would we have done differently with hindsight, and I think it's about having those conversations about what's realistic, what is realistic for that person to be able to do, given they've also got these other priorities and demands? And how is the individual going to manage those different challenges. So it's not just all on the employer, to give them a whole host of, you know, sort of reductions or changes or adaptations, it's about them working with the employee to understand how that person continue to do their job whilst managing the children at home.

Sarah Guthrie 5:50  

And you just said it's not all on the employer, there. At Acas when we're talking about mental health, generally, we talk about how it's a shared responsibility between line managers, individuals and employees. On this issue specifically of supporting people when they're juggling, could you just outline what those different responsibilities look like for each of those players involved? 

Abigail Hirshman 6:12  

Yeah, absolutely. So essentially, the employer will have made a decision and this is this happened pre pandemic, this isn't something new, an employer makes a decision, say, to take on a new project or to, you know, do something different in the workplace that is going to have people impact. So the employer has to have responsibility for thinking, well, I've got five people in my team that are going to have to do this. So ordinarily, they'd have had five people in their team who they knew worked, you know, a collective amount of hours, they may still have those five people in their team, but those collective hours are going to be different. They're not going to be maybe in the same nine to five space. So it's about the manager, the employee thinking, "Well, okay, this is the end goal that I need to get to in order to reach you know, complete that project. These are the amount of hours I'm going to need to get to finish that project." I know I'm being quite simplistic, but it's really breaking it down and thinking, what are going to be the demands on those five people to complete that. And of those demands, I know the two of them have got additional home life demands. So this is what the employer needs to achieve. The employer then needs to make sure that the manager is entirely aware of what those projects outputs are, what does the manager need on a daily transactional basis to work with the employees, their employees, their staff, to fulfill those the demands of that project. And then the manager has to have those very honest and open conversations with people in the team. And it's about a team approach. And this is where it gets quite complicated because you will have a team where you'd have people who are managing children or managing children's if you can ever manage children but you know what I mean, who are looking after their children, and people who aren't. So how do the people who aren't looking after children don't feel that they're taking the load and how to people who have got the children don't feel too guilty? So these are complex situations. But the first point is about what do we need to achieve? Who are the people that I've got in my team to achieve that? And how are we going to do it? So it's a combination of quite compassionate leadership, understanding leadership, but also quite transactional management, thinking about one of the things I need to get done.

Sarah Guthrie 8:15  

So seeing how all of those different players fit together and as an employer thinking about what are the downstream effects of the decisions that you make, as a manager working out how to support your individuals that you're working with and as an individual, being able to give feedback and show what you are actually able to do at the moment. And we've been talking about children and I just wanted to acknowledge that for a lot of people, it's not necessarily children, it's adults with health conditions or older relatives. Is there anything that's particular to that group of people that would help them have the conversation with their employers

Abigail Hirshman 9:01  

I think what one of the things that we've sort of recommended we talk about is sometimes rehearsing that conversation or writing it down during the script. So people aren't necessarily confident about having these discussions because he's a new conversation they've had to have, they may have to, their employee may have to know about stuff that they didn't actually have any awareness or before or not. That's right. But actually, these these conversations have suddenly gone on fast forward. So I always think about, it's a bit like a time lapse video. That's how it feels like with a pandemic, so things are happening very quickly at speed that maybe in the past, you know, wouldn't have ever come up would have taken a long time. But all of these things are about, ""hat are the demands and challenges that people in my workplace have? And how does that affect their ability, that opportunity in their time to be able to do the job that I need them to do?" So regardless of the demand that they have, it's how that affects their role and how they can discuss it with their managers. And as I said, Sometimes we're hurting those conversations. Thinking about how the employer or the manager might respond to some of the things you're raising is worth doing. And also sometimes writing down what you plan to do as an individual, you recognize that this, this is your job and you recognize your employer is supportive, but sometimes being able to say, well, one at some of the things I might be able to do, so one employee I was talking to recently, they negotiated with some of their staff who had additional responsibilities, about thinking about the difference between their work that was quite heavy on the brain, you know, so they will thinking work that they needed to do, and the work that was a little bit more, you know, easy to do so sort of diary entries, or answering emails or those more sort of prosaic workplace tasks that we have to do. So working with the employees at which time maybe for them, they were able to do the more heavy thinking stuff, and when they could do the more light touch stuff, and then how that then impacted back on the work outputs and the work team.

Sarah Guthrie 10:56  

So actually taking the time to think through in detail not, just the task that needs to be done, but also how you're going to do them and how that will affect your own wellbeing and wellbeing of the other people and colleagues and teams around you.

Abigail Hirshman 11:10  

Yeah, I think that's come up time and time again, and this has been in our conversations, Sarah, and lots of conversations I've had with employers is about boundaries. And boundaries are sort of, you know, a thing that employers and managers and individuals can all really really benefit from using. And I don't think I'm seeing probably quite enough of that. So what I'm, what I'm seeing is I'm seeing you've got employers who are really flexible, who do the well being stuff, you know, they would win awards in well being because they're so fantastic at it. But actually, sometimes those employers and managers find it harder to put in some lines with employees. And that may be a line as if "I need you to switch off. I understand you're really dedicated, you really want to work, but I need you to switch off at this time. And I'm going to make sure that we have conversations that enable that," or you get the employer who so flexible and wanting to be so supportive, oh, it's fine. You know, just do what you can, you know, we trust you, we really value you. And that's all great. Please don't think that I'm not saying that's not a good thing. But the employee doesn't really know where they are. Because what's happened is they feel sort of so committed and so not grateful. That's probably not the right word. But so, you know, so engaged with the employer that they think, "Oh, well, I'll just do that extra because actually, they really are trusting me." And what the employer then does, because they haven't put in clear guidelines and boundaries, as in I won't contact you after three o'clock because I know that's when you're feeding the children or whatever it is. They then put in those extra things. "Oh, actually, can you just fill out that report for me? I know you don't work those extra hours, but would you just mind doing that?" and the employee feels responsible for then going, "Oh, okay, then" and then it all starts to go horribly wrong. So putting in boundaries and expectations about what you have in reviewing. These don't need to be static and one offs is really, really important. And then the other thing on boundaries, which I just want to highlight, and I understand that a lot of people who are going to be working at home with children are going to be in combined different family groups who have single parents, you know, blended families, you know, different, different relationships. But what some research has shown recently is that we have a default parent. So we have a parent who is one that the child is most likely to come and interrupt when that child that parents doing their work. So it's not that the other parent doesn't do lots of other domestic stuff. But it's about that interrupted work time. So what I'm finding with some discussions with family, friends and people is that some of the couples are really negotiating the boundaries between them and how one parent takes time. And that's, that's protected time. This is when I'm going to be working at my computer and you mustn't interrupt me in those situations you need to go to the other parent and understand there isn't always another parent to go to But it's just trying to make those boundaries at home as well as at work.

Sarah Guthrie 14:05  

Yeah. And actually, that brings out what you were saying earlier that although as we focus on the workplace, we know that we are whole people, we don't leave ourselves when we go to work. And that has particularly come out in this pandemic, when we can't leave our homes and so we have to be our home self under works up in the same place.

Abigail Hirshman 14:22  

Yes, absolutely. And I think, sorry, I'm gonna get excited here because I think there's a real, there's a real benefit to this situation. And it's really humanizing people. You know, we come into the workplace as sort of like a fully formed person. Nobody saw us that morning, sort of like spooning cereal into the kids mouths, you know, also like balancing and all the things that we have to do as a parent, you know, sort of like what are the challenges, packed lunches and all those different things and then we come into the office and we sort of got our game face on and we're ready to go. But what this has shown is actually, there are skills and qualities that we bring into the workplace actually really beneficial, and I was on the too, I was on a team call with my team that I work with and then my manager, and we were on the call and once we're having the call, there was like a little knock on the door. I don't even know there's a knock Actually, this little person walked into the room and a very, very adorable looking two year old and she came to bring her daddy some crisps. And she got on her lap and I got a little bit of broody as I do, because I do like young children and we will like an eyes and she's cute. Isn't she lovely? But what it did it did two things. It sort of showed us a window into our managers world that maybe we weren't aware of before. And it also made us think as team as individuals. Oh, actually. So when I'm contacting him at eight o'clock at night, because I don't have that additional responsibility, is he actually able to respond to me? So it it humanizes the people you work with and makes you understand in a very quick way, what they've got going on for them. So please don't, to employees, to managers, to individuals, please don't you know, keep your child locked in another room when you're on workplace calls. Maybe it's not always going to be appropriate, there are going to be some professions when actually, you know, it would not work well, but actually equally it does, as I said, humanize those relationships and help you understand things from the other person's perspective and see what they've got going on.

Sarah Guthrie 16:18  

Thanks, Abigail. That's a really valuable advice. For our listeners who might be listening to this thinking, "There's no way my manager would deal with a conversation like that well, or I just don't want to admit that I'm struggling, because I want to be competent, and my manager relies on my competence," what would you say to those people who are really actually dreading having conversation about this, and so avoid it entirely?

Abigail Hirshman 16:47  

I would, I think the first point I want is to recognize that this is a reality that this is a reality for people who are in a situation where maybe they don't feel their jobs to secure they may have seen colleagues furloughed, there may be an organization that may be facing redundancy. So in that climate, it is even harder for people who to admit or to acknowledge or to express that maybe they are finding the workload too challenging or too demanding, given their other responsibilities at home. I was, I was talking to a business yesterday and they are a company that has chargeable time because of the jobs that they do. And the expectation is still on all of the employees that they still do the same amount of chargeable time that they did prior to the pandemic. Some of these will have children at home, some of them won't. And even if you haven't got responsibilities at home, we all know that we know that people are challenged, you know, from a mental capacity at the moment. So I think that is a risky strategy for business to take. So that's my sort of first point is just think about the longer term impacts of these decisions you're making at the moment. You are possibly going to be a workplace that's going to have less people, as you go forward, because you may have to do cost cutting measures, we understand that. So the people that you have in your workplace it's about keeping them as healthy and as well now for the future. So that's sort of the bigger picture answer. But in terms of the individual who doesn't feel able to disclose or to talk about something with their employer, as I said, I completely understand that, but they also have a responsibility to look after themselves and to think about what is possible, what can I actually do, and what do I need to change? What do I need that's differently given to me differently so that I can keep my work responsibilities going, whilst absolutely not making myself on? Well, it's about rehearsing it's about writing down a list. It's about thinking, what do I need to get from this conversation? Do I want just somebody to listen to understand that actually, this is a struggle. Do I want some practical changes to my workload? Is it about taking my leave differently? Is it taking half days or working slightly different adjusted hours. So there are lots of different practical routes that an employee can do. And if you have a list of options in front of you and showing that you thought about it, even the most unresponsive manager would be able to work with that because it'd be something that would be practical and tangible for them to work with.

Sarah Guthrie 19:18  

Thank you, Abigail. That's really important advice. Just to finish off, what would be your one takeaway that you wish we could remember from this podcast?

Abigail Hirshman 19:29  

Oh gosh Sarah, one takeaway? [Abigail and Sarah laugh] I know that's very challenging for me. Know the challenges that your staff are facing, understand the demands they have on them, work with them to negotiate a different way that they may be able to meet those demands, help them understand what the challenges are for the business. So be as open and as authentic and as available as you can about the challenges within the business, the challenges for managers and work together collectively in order to meet those.

Sarah Guthrie 20:08  

Thank you Abigail. That is a brilliant note to end on. You've been listening to the Acas Podcast, we've put some useful links on mental health and homeworking in the session notes for this episode, or you can visit our website at Thanks for listening. 

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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.