The Acas Podcast


How can we return to work well?

Acas workplace adviser Rich Jones shares his insights for employers, managers and returning workers on how we can return well. We explore: the major issues, the best way to raise concerns, why listening and taking action matters, what role employers, managers and workers can each play and what to do if your plans need to change.

Useful links:

Acas guidance:

UK Government guidance:

HSE guidance:

If you are concerned about a workplace, contact the Health and Safety Executive, or your local authority. You can report your concern anonymously to HSE: or call 0300 790 6787 (Monday to Friday, 8:30am to 5pm)

Acas tailored support for your workplace:


Sarah Guthrie 0:00 

Welcome to the Acas Podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie part of the communications team here at Acast. And today I'm joined by Rich Jones, who is one of our workplace advisors based in Leeds. Well, thanks for joining me today Rich. Today we're talking about returning to work, which is obviously a huge issue, and one that no one has really had to deal with in a pandemic in this country before at least in most people's living memories. So I wondered if you could start off by giving an insight into what you think the major concerns are for employers and employees.


Rich Jones 0:32 

Yeah, I mean, I think you've you've prefaced it nicely there. I don't think we can underestimate just what strange circumstances we're in at the moment. We really don't know how it's affecting other people because it seems to be massive impacts across the board but in very different ways. And, and I know this from because my role brings me into contact with lots of employers, lots of trade unions, and various other organisations and I've talked these things through and there's absolutely no one size fits all, in terms of what's going off here. I think the other thing is we've got to remember some people have been working throughout this. And so there are massive issues of equality, in terms of some people are working, not just working but working longer hours working harder working in harder environments, and others, for whatever reason found themselves either working from home and potentially the job has become slightly easier or maybe furloughed, in which case some people are are probably struggling financially as a result of that. Others may actually quite likely the break. So there's huge differences which themselves might cause some tension as people start to go back into what's being called the new normal and people start going back to work. The evidence suggests from talking to these different bodies that a lot of staff have shown a lot of goodwill to get us this far. Without that goodwill, we'd be in a far worse place. But the message coming through loud and clear from those staff and from the bodies that represent them, is that they don't want this to just go back to what it used to be like, you know, there's been lots of good things that have come out of this crisis, and the goodwill and the relationships that have been built and some of the new systems and processes that have been put in place, there may well be a role for those moving forwards. And we don't want a knee jerk reaction to just go back to how things used to be. But but at the same time, businesses have got it really difficult because they've got to balance the needs of individuals against their survival and the need to move forward. So that's going to be the sort of difficulty we face in trying to balance the needs of individuals and the needs of businesses to survive and prosper. And sometimes those two things are compatible. Sometimes they're not. And that's what's gonna lead to the tension.


Sarah Guthrie 3:09 

So, almost as you're talking, I'm thinking, imagining that I'm a, you know, a business that is thinking of opening up in the next couple of weeks couple of months. How do I do that that balancing well? How do I approach this issue of returning physically to the workplace well?


Rich Jones 3:28 

The big message is do not underestimate the concerns and the fear that some employees have about returning to work. I've seen various statistics, anything from 40% of the workforce, right up to 70% of the workforce, who are being asked to return have real concerns about what that's going to involve. So employers have got to first of all, bear that in mind and talk to and listen to all of the employees. If all they do is draw up a plan and say, "Right, we've spoken to some consultants, this is what's going to happen," I think that's a recipe for disaster. Because we all know in Acas that you need to take people with you. So being right isn't good enough. You've got to show you're right. And and showing your right is talking to people explaining the logic behind decisions that are being proposed, and listening to concerns and dealing with those so that it reduces that sort of tension that people have. And you take people with you that way. So I think that's the first thing I would say. And that's based on an understanding that the issues for individuals will be very different. One of the big problems that we come across is is managers and people judging others by the what, what it's meant for them, or how they've, they've dealt with a particular situation. But of course, just because I can deal with maybe working from home or wearing peopIe It doesn't mean that somebody else can do so we have to take This whole person approach, because you could be talking about somebody, for instance, who is worried about not going back to work, but about catching the virus and then going back to where they live, where maybe they're shielding a vulnerable person or something like that, and passing the virus on to them. It could be that people are concerned about how they're going to get to work and back. It could be that cleanliness is an issue. So people might want assurances that there's been a real deep clean to the premises. Others might be worried about things like social distancing. And another issue might be depending on the circumstances you're working in, you know, the provision of PPE, and is, is it adequate? Is there enough of it? Is Is there an alternative way of dealing with the return to work that doesn't involve BP at all? So it's a really complex picture. I'm sorry, that was a very long answer. But there's a lot of things that I've I've picked up on my travels and I'm just trying to relay as much as I can to get a feel for the The complex landscape we're in.


Sarah Guthrie 6:02 

Yeah, because it's complex on so many different levels. So given that complex picture, what's the best way of managers in an organisation dealing with say someone coming to them and asking for, say, a specific approach that suits their situation? How do you balance that with organisations needing to set overall policy?


Rich Jones 6:24 

Okay, well, again, there's not going to be a one size fits all here, but it's about listening with an open mind to any concerns that employees have, and listening to what sorts of suggestions they may have to try and get around those. So rather than the employer suggesting things, listen to anything that's coming from the employee themselves, because they probably know what's gonna work and what's not gonna work, whereas the employee or the employer, because they're not that person, they may not. It's not rocket science, but it's about listening. And then it's about trying to find strategies that will alleviate the concerns of those individuals, it could be as simple as explaining what's what's going to happen, because they may be under a false assumption. Or it could be that there are adjustments, which could be quite easily put in place, which the employer had never thought about, and which aren't going to be a big burden on the business. But equally, it could be that the employee doesn't really know what to suggest. And the employer is a bit of a loss because things have to happen and they can't find another way around it. And that's where you have to have a very difficult conversation with people about what the options are. It's going to depend on each individual business, it's going to depend on the amount of labour that they need and potentially how desperate it is that the business gets running again for its survival, but it could ultimately come to the point where employees have to say to people, "We've tried to deal with these as sensitively as we can your concerns. But ultimately, we have to, we have to move forward on this. And we can't just leave you sitting at home. And that's where potentially a long, long way down the line, employers might be looking at disciplinary action, but the last thing they should do is jump straight to that premise and start waving the stick that if you don't come back to work, I'll be sacking you. That's absolutely the wrong way to do it. And all that will happen is it will antagonise people will lead to complaints, wasted time tribunal complaints and you might well lose a very good employee and have to re recruit at difficult time. When by talking to the individual and spending a bit more time with them, you might have been able to find an accommodation to keep them. So I've been concentrating a lot there on individuals but of course employers also need to remember that if they're in an environment where there are recognised trade unions or there are staff associations or groups of workers who they traditionally consult, it would be good practice to do that first. So try and get some sort of agreement in place that's pooled the knowledge of those people, before you start presenting plans to individuals. Again, it's just about two heads are better than one. And if you consult with all relevant parties, you're likely to get an outcome that A is going to be more acceptable to everybody, and be is more likely to work.


Sarah Guthrie 9:26 

Yeah, thank you Rich, that's really interesting. It feels like we've been talking a lot from the employer level, what’s the role of managers in this, like, how can they play a part in helping an organisation return to work well?


Rich Jones 9:40 

The difficulty is that with a senior management team, you're talking about a small number of individuals in most organisations, but with middle managers and supervisors, you could have quite a large number of people. The wider spread of people you're talking about, the more risk there is that you get inconsistency both in the message that's conveyed, and in the approach that's taken to solving problems. So I think it's about trying to encapsulate in writing the agreement that I just talked about that hopefully you can reach with union staff, associations, groups of staff. And then making sure that when that's rolled out, everybody's clear about what the message is, so that you don't get those inconsistency is sure you're always going to get some managers who view things slightly differently. But if you can stop some of the beginning consistencies, then that's going to lead to a better implementation of the strategy and a happier workforce. And that might be involve some sort of training you know, you might have to sit people down and talk them through the why and and how this is going to work, take questions from them because of course, managers and supervisors may have concerns about the approach their employees as well. So similar sort of approach, but they have a key role. And we often find that it's the middle managers in organisations, that can often be an issue when an organisation is trying to embark on a big change like this, if they don't understand the message or if they're not signed up to it.


Sarah Guthrie 11:19 

So spending some time on those, like actually prepping everybody at all points of the organisation organisation to cascade the message.


Rich Jones 11:28 

Yeah, so recognising that they're their managers, but they're also individuals. So you need to have two conversations with them. One is about how are you? What are your concerns? What can I do to help? The other is, this is the approach we're thinking of taking. What do you think about it? Any concerns, any other suggestions on how we can improve it? Any problems with you going away and cascading that now? So you have the two conversations and hopefully, that deals with your concern.


Sarah Guthrie 11:54 

Yeah. Almost as as we mentioned at the beginning of the podcast, this is unpredented and I have pictured in my head, almost this grand plan that you kind of roll out and then you do it and it works. When in reality this is this is not something that we can control down to the nth degree. What would you say to an employee who perhaps has started to return to work? What happens if, if it's not working? Or if things change? How can they deal with this as an evolving situation?


Rich Jones 12:28 

Again, it's about talking. But your your question is actually very pertinent because one of the things that we find in Acast is that no matter how good an employer is, no matter how good a manager or senior manager is, they never quite get the full story from employees about what's concerning them. Partly because people are concerned sometimes to voice their concerns for fear of been seen as a troublemaker or something like that. And partly because sometimes supervisors and managers sift out what might seem unpalatable parts of staff concerns when they feed them the line. So what we say is senior managers never ever get the full picture of how staff are feeling. But it's this is about trying to get as accurate a picture as you can about what the staff concerns are so that you can take remedial action which addresses those concerns, rather than addresses perceived concerns. And and it's quite interesting because we actually do quite a lot of work in this area, which we don't tend to publicise because employers don't normally want to publicise it, understandably, but we actually use our badge of independence and impartiality, to talk, either individually or in groups, to staff about what their real concerns are. And because we are independent and we don't work for the organisation, they will actually tell us what the real concerns are, and what they would like to see done differently and we can then use them to shine a light back to the organisation and say, "This is what the real picture looks like. So now now you understand that you can go away and devise an appropriate action plan." So that's where we get that, that sort of understanding from because we do that sort of work.


Sarah Guthrie 14:16 

So thinking about it, actually, from the employees perspective, for a moment, imagine, say, I had a concern, what advice would you have for individuals who are concerned? How can they feedback their concerns in a way that really helps employers to hear and act on them?


Rich Jones 14:32 

Well, the first thing is to be diplomatic. What you have to remember when you're an employee, is that you, your only power is to influence people. So the best way to do that is to take a reasonable approach, and to make sure that the logic in your argument stands out because it is the logic of an argument that will win the day, rather than somebody threatening somebody shouting, somebody's making all sorts of accusations which we've all seen. might make people feel good, but actually, it doesn't lead to good employment relations moving forward, and he doesn't normally get what you want anyway. So it's about trying to be clear what it is that you concerned about how you're going to articulate. And also try and come up with an alternative. Rather than just being a blocker and saying, I don't want to do that. Offer a suggestion about what you might do instead that you think might be appropriate or might be the word I'm looking for, might be acceptable to the employer as well. So you, you're trying to find a win win, but it's not necessarily the win win that you set out to achieve, if that makes sense.


Sarah Guthrie 15:42 

Yeah, yeah. So diplomacy and logic to help you kind of move forward in a way that is a bit more watertight than throwing emotion around perhaps?


Rich Jones 15:55 

Yeah, diplomacy, logic and the positive spin on it. So trying to look to what you can do rather than what you can't?


Sarah Guthrie 16:03 

So imagine as an employee that you've done all of what we've been talking about, maybe your employer has consulted with you or they haven't, and you've raised your concerns, but you still don't think that they are being compliant to the guidance that the government set out. What can an employee do in that situation?


Rich Jones 16:24 

Well, hopefully, many employees will be in a position where they have a good enough relationship with their boss to be able to talk to them. That's the starting point. But I accept that sometimes these things are difficult and it's quite sensitive. So if employees don't feel able to do that, they may want to seek further advice. And obviously, there's the Acas helpline, there's the Acas website and there's a whole host of other organisations that can help. One of the things we would always suggest if if somebody comes to our helpline, for instance, with a concern, and we think it could help is, "Are you a member of a trade union? Because if you are and the trade unions have often got a lot of help that they can offer, both in terms of advice and in terms of representing individuals."


Sarah Guthrie 17:07 

Thank you Rich, that's really useful. And of course, people can also contact HSE if they have concerns, and we'll put links to that in the session notes for this episode. So thank you, Rich, it has been great talking to you today about returning to work and unpacking the complexities of that and how we do it in a way that smooth, that reduces anxiety that keeps communication up so that we can return to work. It's been great talking to you today. So thank you.


Rich Jones 17:33 

Thank you, Sarah. All the best.


Sarah Guthrie 17:34 

This has been the Acas Podcast. You can find useful links to our website and guidance on returning to work, plus links to the Health and Safety Executive, if you have a concern about a workplace you're returning to in the session notes for this episode. 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.

Talking human to human: disability in a pandemic

With the pandemic likely to have a disproportionate impact on disabled staff, we ask how workplaces and individuals can respond successfully. Joined by Jane Hatton, CEO and founder of Evenbreak, and Acas workplace adviser Caroline Sandy, we look at:What a good conversation around disability looks likeCommon mythsHow to ask for adjustments, especially when you think your workplace may not be supportiveEpisode resources:EvenbreakAccess to workReasonable adjustmentsImproving equality, diversity and inclusion in your workplaceTranscript SarahGuthrieWelcome to the Acas podcast. I'm Sarah Guthrie and today we're focusing on how we can support disabled people during the coronavirus pandemic. I'm delighted to be here with Jane Hatton, who is Founder and Chief Executive of Evenbreak, which connects disabled jobseekers with inclusive employers. And also Caroline Sandy, who is Chair of the Acas staff disability network and a workplace advisor. Thanks for joining me today.JaneHattonPleasure.CarolineSandyYou're welcome.SarahDisability is a huge topic. And so it's obvious, but we can't cover everything. So I just wanted to flag that we will be doing related topics later, like mental health in more depth. But I'm thrilled to be today delving into the details of how we can support disabled people who are working at this very challenging time. So what do we need to be aware of when we're thinking about disability in the workplace, at this point in the pandemic. Jane?JaneYeah, I mean, so many things, the obvious one is about workplace adjustments. So people are many people disabled and otherwise are now working remotely. And workplace adjustments are just as important for someone who's working at home then as they are for someone in the workplace. So I think things like technology, furniture, making sure that someone has space within the home that they can...difficult if you're sharing, you know, shared accommodation with other people if you've got young children or whatever. But as far as possible, make the working environment at home, as barrier free as you can. And for people who are in work really a lot of the same as you do for anybody else about, about making it covid safe, so that they are less likely to be, you know, to catch this horrible virus because it's you know, not, not something that we want any employees to come down with.CarolineAnd I think as well keeping in touch as you would with any employee, that particularly if you're aware that you've got staff with disabilities, making sure that the adaptations you've put in place are working, and maybe, be a bit more aware of, you might get requests that you've not had before. So you might, for example, get somebody asking for support with travel to work. And I think it's to be open minded, look at things from a can do point of view. And if you look at it that way, and then you find you can't do it, at least you've approached it in the right direction.SarahAnd from your experience, what kind of barriers come up often that are actually quite simple to remove?CarolineThe perception that things are costly to put in place, which is very often not the case. Fear about having a conversation, you know, what can I say? Well, you know, disabled people like anybody else are human beings, they can talk. So talk to them on a, on that human level without any pre judgment of either what somebody might need, or what they're, the impact the condition has on them. Disabled people tend to know themselves very well know what their limitations are, know what they need, so don't make any assumptions. And sick absence is another one that people tend to think, that employing somebody with a disability is going to give you increased sick absence. And that's very often not the case, if anything, and sick absence with the right level of support is quite minimal in most cases.JaneSo I'd echo that, I did some research few years ago, which I wrote up in a book about the business case for employing disabled people. And one of the things was that on average, disabled people have significantly less time off sick than non disabled people. I think that thing about keeping in touch with people is very important, because if everybody's working from home, you can feel quite isolated. And we all work from home at Evenbreak routinely, we always have done and so we felt a bit smug at the beginning of the, of the pandemic, because we were already experts in this.But what we started doing with, in the beginning of the pandemic was starting our team online meetings with just a kind of check in about how people were feeling. And I think it's important that leaders genuinely lead the way there. So, you know, I made a point of sometimes saying, I'm getting a bit fed up with this now it's not funny anymore, is it? You know, or, you know, not, not saying, Oh, isn't everything wonderful, but accepting that this is difficult, and you know, some people are really struggling, and just allowing people to say how they feel without fear of judgment or any other kind of impact,CarolineAs well just sort of broadening out a little, you might not be talking to somebody that has a disability themselves. They either live with somebody that has a disability, or they care for somebody and in this pandemic environment that brings additional challenges to that individual, even though they may not be disabled themselves.JaneAnd not forgetting of course that you will have disabled people that you don't know are disabled because I haven't told you. They're, in most organizations, people don't be open about their impairment, because they may feel that they'll lose out on promotional opportunities or development opportunities. Most, most impairments aren't visible anyway. So you will almost certainly have neurodiverse people or people with diabetes or mental health conditions that you have no idea of. Sometimes they may have no idea of because they may not have been diagnosed. So it is about being sensitive with everybody really.SarahAnd you've both mentioned there that sometimes people don't disclose that they are disabled people, and that sometimes people find it difficult to talk about this topic. What advice would you have about what a good conversation on this looks like and what it doesn't?JaneI think if you have an open culture, then this isn't an issue. So and by open culture, I mean that you can talk about disability or mental health in the same way that you can talk about what was on EastEnders last night, or what the weather is going to be like at the weekend. So it just becomes another topic of conversation. And that's easy to say, it's not so easy to do, because people do feel, especially people who've had a history of being discriminated against, or disadvantaged in things like career opportunities, because of their disability, why would you be open about it? But I think that, you know, if you have a culture where senior people within that organization, are open about their issues, so whether it's someone who's gay, or someone who has mental health, or someone who's caring for, you know, whatever it might be, it suddenly becomes okay for everybody else in the organization to be human too. But it's really, it's really, for leaders and managers to make it easy for people to say, this is who I am. And I need some help. Because we all need help sometimes, disabled or not.CarolineWell, sort of following on from what Jane's just said there, the importance of acceptance by a manager about what whatevers shared, confidentiality, that you know that you are sharing something that and it's down to you to choose whether you share more widely than that. And also something Jane said earlier, somebody may not either aware they're becoming unwell, or may struggle to accept a diagnosis that leads to them being disabled. So they may well talk about difficulties that they have. But it doesn't need to have that label of disability on it necessarily to say that they need extra support.JaneWhether somebody under the legislation will be described as disabled, you know or not, is actually irrelevant. What you want to do is make sure that your employees are able to carry out their job to the best of their ability, and whatever they need to do that is in your interests to supply.CarolineAnd sometimes to be brave to try something you haven't done before can open all sorts of gains that you wouldn't have envisaged.SarahHave you found that to be true at Evenbreak Jane in your experience leading that organization?JaneYes. And well, in our case, it's, it's fascinating, really, because we only employ disabled people for a number of reasons. One is why wouldn't we because they're also talented? But also we want to be demonstrating to other organizations, you know. And also, I think it's important that we lead from a position of lived experience. So it's disabled people talking about disabled people, rather than, you know, historically non disabled people telling other non disabled people what disabled people needed. I mean, we, we have a terrifically diverse team, not just in terms of lots of different kinds of impairments, but also in terms of gender, and race, and age, and, you know, all sorts of other things as well. We're an incredibly diverse team. And actually, what I find is that a lot of the discussion isn't necessarily impairment related, it's person related. So you might have someone with an autistic child who's struggling at a mainstream school and needs extra support while they get that sorted out. We all work from home anyway so that wasn't particularly new for us. But most of the adjustments is exactly as Caroline said, it's about flexible working. So although everybody works remotely from home, we all will work different hours. And we'll work them at different times, and we'll work them at times to suit us. The skill is as a leader to enable that to happen so that people feel that they can ask for things which may seem out of the ordinary. You know, we have people who work, you know, weekends because they like to have time off during the week. I'm a bit of a night owl person, so I don't function very well before double figures in the morning. But I'm quite often still working at 11 at night, but that's out of choice. And I make it clear that I don't expect employees to be working at 11 at night or instantly respond to emails I might send at that time. But just to you know, we all work differently and just respecting that I think that makes for an organization that works seamlessly together and really well as a team. And we all work at our best. And certainly the organization doesn't suffer. In fact, I think it, it gains from that because it does mean you get more productivity from people. And they're not sitting there worried about oh I need to pick the kids up, or oh, I've got this hospital appointment. How am I going to do that? Because it just is fitted in automatically. It's not a deal anymore.SarahIt's interesting, as you were talking, I was going to chip in and ask you what what you would say to an organization that thinks it's going to be bad for the organization to work this flexibly? And you've already answered that question, because it sounds like the gains in allowing that flexibility far outweigh the difference you have in terms of everybody working in the office at the same time.JaneYeah, I think we've, we've sort of had this history, which I hope COVID will change - you have to look for silver linings don't you in these crises. But you know, I think there was even, even in 2020, early on, there was still a kind of assumption that people should work nine to five, Monday to Friday, 40 hours a week at a place of work. And it was still - and for some people, that will be the case, you know, if you're a nurse, you can't work from home. But for an inordinate amount of jobs that we have been told for decades couldn't possibly be done from home, when disabled people have asked for that as an adjustment, you know, we're suddenly discovering that lots of jobs can be done from home. And I think that you know, that, that actually helps organizations to get the best from people. But I, you know, it's important not to make the assumption that, oh, everybody's going to want to work from home because some people hate working from home. So I think from an employer's perspective, if you want to get the best out of your people - and why wouldn't you because they're your most expensive asset - it's about how can we offer employees choice, so that they can work in a way that really works for them, but works for the organization as well. And those two things aren't mutually exclusive by any stretch of the imaginationCarolineIn a way the disability is irrelevant. And it's, you know, what can we do, that means that we'll get the best out of you, and you'll give us give us the best and treating me as an individual, not as a person with a label.SarahAnd that's a very attractive culture of everybody. As you've been saying, this is not something that everybody else, in inverted commas, is going to be unattracted to. This is, this is good for all of us. And I'm wondering, for somebody who's listening to this thinking, my workplace is just not there, I'm not getting the support I need, and it's really affecting me, how would they go about opening up a conversation to get the support that they do need?JaneI think definitely the first approach is the informal approach, rather than going straight to the union or whatever. And the way to frame it, I think, which can be helpful is to say to the manager, or the HR person, or whoever it is, you feel you can talk to: look, you know, I would be far more productive, if I was able to have this - whatever it might be. And, and it's about knowledge as well. Knowledge is power. So if it's, for example, assistive technology, you know, if I had a bigger monitor, I would be far more productive, because I wouldn't keep getting headaches, because I can't see it properly, and Access to Work will pay for it. So I think it's about knowing what what's available out there. And framing it not in a way that starts off by these are my legal rights, and I demand to have them - although you can do that, of course. But I think the initial contact should be, I would be able to be much more productive, I would have less time off sick, it would make my life and your life much easier. Can we look at these? Whether it's, you know, and usually it's not a costing thing, it's normally something like flexibility, you know, different hours or whatever it might be, but if it is a cost thing, just remind the employer that actually you don't have to pay for all of this, that Access to Work will pay for some or all towards it. And it's a simple solution. And we'll all be happy. And then escalate it obviously if you're not if you're no from there, you might want to escalate it. I think the initial one would be look, we can all be all be better off if we just make this change.CarolineYeah, I think I think Jane very right there. I suffered with SAD, very, very badly in the winter. So my agreement is I take more annual leave in the winter than I do. In the summer, I work slightly different hours. I'm more productive in the summer. So I get most of my target time done in that time of year which allows me that down time if I need it in the winter without any anxiety coming in, because I know I'm where I need to be. But that requires you to have a dialogue. People can't read minds.JaneAnd almost always the employee will know what the solution is. And I do think that one of the other silver linings out of, that's come out of the pandemic is that we're realizing that the old way of working is not, you know, going to really come back again ever, I don't think. So what we need in our organizations are people who are flexible, who are used to working in different ways, who can find innovative ways around obstacles, who were used to remote working, and the absolute experts in all of those things are disabled people because we've been doing it on our lives. It was always the case. But it's even more obvious now that disabled candidates and employees are premium candidates and employees. It's nothing to do with pity. It's everything to do with additional skill and talent that we bring with us.SarahThat is a very powerful point chain. And I'm wondering, have you got any stories of where employees have moved from perhaps not quite getting it to becoming more inclusive, in your work at Evenbreak?JanePeople are recognizing now, I think some of the larger employers are recognizing that things like their processes were not only discriminating against allbeit, you know, unwittingly, against disabled candidates, but actually not really very effective ways of predicting future talent anyway. CVs tend to reflect history not potential. And if you're disabled, you're less likely to have had the opportunities to show what you made off, because you've been discriminated against, so your CV won't show your brilliance. And not everybody is brilliant at interviews. In fact, really, I think that if you interview someone, all you're doing is finding out the people who are the best at blagging interviews. Unless blagging interviews is part of the role, is that really what you want to test? But I think that, you know, looking at some of the more forward thinking organizations that we work with. I will name one, for example, HS2. They get a lot of bad press. But actually, their recruitment process is excellent, in terms of using what we call blind auditions. So if someone's going for a technical role, instead of having to go to an interview and be asked how good they are, as a technician, they'll be given a technical task to do and they'll be, you know, assessed purely on how good were they at that task. And if they need adjustments to do it, they're given those adjustments. So I do think that organizations are finding that the more inclusive they are, the better caliber of candidate is applying and the better caliber of candidate they're actually appointing. The interesting thing is that every organization that I know of who have employed disabled people actively have said it was one of the best things I've ever done.SarahAnd on that, have you got any favorite stories about how someone has been supported by an organization to really flourish?JaneI have an internal one, if that doesn't sound too big headed?SarahNo, not at all.JaneSo the first person that I employed at Evenbreak after myself was a young man of 16. He's quite happy for me to tell the story. He was 16 at the time, his mum phoned me to say, do you have any careers advice for my son. She wasn't asking for a job for him. She said he has ME very severely such that he's not been at school since he was 10. So he's been homeschooled, but because of his condition, he can only really work for say, for three or four hours a week. So he's now 16. He doesn't have qualifications, he doesn't have the work experience that you know, most teenagers do. And his careers advisor has told him that he'll have to live a life on benefits. And I can remember thinking you can't write off someone at 16. But this was back in something like 2012. And it was when a million young people were unemployed. So he was up against a million other young people who probably have GCSEs, at least will have done that week's work experience from school, you know, and then I was thinking of the employers that work with us and thinking, well, he can only work for two hours a week, and he doesn't have any work experience. He can't work outside the home. What's he going to do? And I have one of these, you know, lightbulb moments and I said, can he use a computer and she said, he's 16, he was born using a computer. So long story short, he became a data entry clerk at at Evenbreak. And he works two hours a week. And we worked out between us that actually working in 20 minute bursts is better for him because he gets too tired after 20 minutes. So he spreads his two hours across the whole week, in six lots of 20 minutes. He's been with us for 7,8,9 years, and he's never had the day off sick, and I don't think he's ever made a mistake. And that's someone who was written off. And when I tell that story, people start feeling sorry for him. And by the end of the story, they're saying, I want to employ him. I want someone who never goes off sick and never makes a mistake. And he's never had to go on benefits. And he will work with us for as long as we're going.SarahThat's fantastic.CarolineThat's amazing, yeah. I've got a personal one when I had some unexpected time off. And for me, it was very empowering when I was asked by my manager to put together my own Return to Work Plan. Was, you know, to have that, that, that empowerment to say what I was going to do, when I was going to do it, obviously with their agreement, but it was a case of me leading my return rather than being done to, which would have felt very patronizing, would have felt very childish if you like. I knew what I could do. I knew how I could do it. So to have the ability to be able to say, this is what I think, what do you think, is incredibly empowering. And obviously, because I put it together, I was invested in it, I made it happen. And it was incredibly successful.SarahJane, Caroline, thank you for sharing those stories. I feel incredibly uplifted by them. And I think what's really struck me is that these things that we're talking about are good for everybody. Although we have been talking about disability, things like flexible working, treating people, as individuals, and helping everybody to work in a way that works for them best - all of those things really help organizations. So it's not an either/or, often it's a both/and, where what you can do for one individual will also help your whole organization. So thank you for sharing that. And I'm sure that those insights will be good for everybody, not just those with particular disabilities. So thank you. You've been listening to the a cast podcast. There's more advice, training and resources on our website to help you support those with disabilities. And in the session notes for this episode too, I've put links to a number you can call if you're looking for more bespoke support for your organization. So don't hesitate to get in touch. Thanks for listening.