Managing dyslexia in the workplace

Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci had more in common than their genius: both were dyslexic.

It didn’t hold either of them back – nor should it for the estimated 10-15% of the UK population for whom dyslexia is just a part of their everyday life.

Yet despite this, many still keep their dyslexia secret from their colleagues and employers instead relying on their own strategies to manage their work. But it doesn’t need to be like this. If you have dyslexia, then it makes sense to tell your employer because there are plenty of things that can be implemented to make your working day easier.

Dyslexia: the advantages

And what’s more, dyslexia can be a positive force in the workplace. Helen Boden, chief executive officer of charity the British Dyslexia Association (BDA) says: “There’s a lot of work at the moment on the value of neuro-diversity and dyslexia in the workplace in terms of giving organisations a competitive advantage. A recent study by Ernst & Young showed that harnessing such neuro-diversity can bring real benefits.”

Because the different way dyslexics think about things means they can come up with other ways to solve problems.

And Boden adds: “Quite a high proportion of dyslexics work within the accountancy and bookkeeping fields. Looking at things from a different angle can help with complex issues such as finding solutions to tax problems or ideas for investment opportunities.

“These days, more employers are thinking creatively and they want to embrace the different qualities individuals can bring to their business. They don’t have a cookie-cutter approach to their workforce.”

Working towards a solution

What’s more, a growing number of employers are doing their best to support those with dyslexia at work. The BDA goes into companies and helps train employees as workplace needs assessors who can help those with dyslexia with their needs. A workplace needs assessor will work with the employee “to explore with them the impact and challenges that their dyslexia might be having on their work” says Boden.

“They will look at the job description, the detail of the tasks associated with the job, the environment etc. Once this evaluation and discussion has been completed then recommendation for reasonable discussions will be made and a report written. We will also usually meet with their line manager during this process to ensure that everyone is on board with the process.”

Solutions will very much depend on the individual, but some adjustments might include spellchecking or voice to text software or noise-cancelling headphones.

Telling your employer

Obviously, these solutions depend on employees with dyslexia telling their employers. Dyslexia is covered by the Equality Act, so the employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments for those with dyslexia. But adjustments have to be reasonable – you can’t expect your role to be changed so much that it doesn’t resemble the original job description. However it’s easier – and cheaper – to retain employees than take on new ones, so employers will usually be happy to help as much as they can to accommodate the needs of those with dyslexia.

But how do you tell your employer if you’re dyslexic? First of all, pick your time: it’s not a good idea to say you’ve got it after a problem has emerged at work. “We would always suggest that an individual disclosed their dyslexia or anything else at a time when things are going well rather than wait until there is a problem” says Boden.

Some employees try to disguise their dyslexia by overcompensating. They get in before everyone else or stay late so they can work when it’s quiet and easier to concentrate. Sadly, there are still cases of people being discriminated against at work because they are dyslexic. If this happens, then you must tell your line manager.

Speaking up

For some with dyslexia, the thought of going for a promotion or speaking up at a meeting is terrifying. Preparing in advance will help calm the nerves. Employers can help in nurturing a culture where diversity is welcomed as a positive for the business.

Boden adds: “The key for employers is to embrace and develop a culture that values diversity and be pro-active in support. In other words, don’t wait for someone to experience difficulties. Treat all employees as individuals with individual needs and it is likely that the workplace will be a happier and more productive environment.”

Remember that you have something different to offer and that your way of approaching a problem is of value to your employer – and hence the bottom line and the fortunes of your co-workers. Knowing your value should help you speak up in important meetings – and go for that much-deserved promotion.

Charlotte Beugge spent more than 20 years as the deputy personal finance editor on The Daily Telegraph and then The Daily Mail. A freelancer since 2010, her work has appeared in national newspapers, magazines and websites.

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