The British Dyslexia Association and Dyslexia Scotland agree that around 10% of the UK adult population is dyslexic. However, this does not mean that dyslexia is evenly spread within the working world. Take a look at the proportion of dyslexics below:
It’s clear that successfully conducting a management seminar is likely to involve a different combination of communication skills compared with conducting a meeting on the design of a new road bridge.
A typical interaction between two of these groups, without knowledge of dyslexia, might be:
Manager: Why can’t this engineer remember the budget figures I mentioned last week?
Engineer: Why can’t that manager see in his head that adding this feature will make the whole contraption work properly?
Both: Is that guy doing his job properly?
Thus the seeds of uncertainty are sown: both the manager and engineer’s lack of understanding of dyslexia in the workplace means that their full potential to work together can be undermined. It is up to HR to acquire the knowledge they need to harness the full potential of dyslexia in their organisation, and remove it as a barrier to success and teamwork.
So HR’s first question might be: How many of our workforce do we know to be dyslexic? It is highly likely that HR is aware of very few, or none at all.
Here’s the 2 main reasons why:
1. Employers have not embraced dyslexia at work
Dyslexic people may be wary of consequences for them at work which may come with the label of ‘dyslexic’. The BDA and Business Link for London’s survey of dyslexic workers (2007) found:
- nearly half hadn’t mentioned it to their employer;
- a third saw dyslexia as a barrier to success at work;
- one in ten thought mentioning it would be bad for their promotion and training prospects.
This fear of negative consequences leads to employees not addressing their learning needs. The result is that dyslexic staff may not be accessing the type of training and support best suited to them acquiring important work-related knowledge and skills.
2. Dyslexics also lack knowledge of dyslexia
As well as dyslexia not being the No.1 topic for dyslexics to talk about at work, many people do not even know they are dyslexic. Indeed, many adults assume that because they can read adequately they cannot be dyslexic.
This reflects limited understanding of what dyslexia is and what it does at work. The majority of dyslexic adults have competent or even good reading skills. What is more apparent is the time it takes for the meaning of a document, form or written instruction to be absorbed, which may be longer than for other people, and getting organised to respond to new information, which can present a challenge. The mis-understanding of dyslexia as only a literacy matter is also widespread in education, where teachers tend to spot only the most obvious dyslexics for referral to specialists.
While we wait for knowledge and understanding to catch up in the workplace, lack of dyslexia provision continues to have an impact on employment - on the organisation of work at hand, or more usually and importantly on the stress levels of staff in dyslexia-unfriendly working environments.
Fixing these issues can maybe lead to the manager and engineer both being able to say with confidence: that guy is doing his job properly.
For more on the effects of dyslexia in the workplace, take a look at these information blogs:
Jan Halfpenny is a dyslexia specialist who works as a consultant and a provider of training, consultation and online training in dyslexia for businesses and organisations. She writes and delivers talks on dyslexia, entrepreneurship and effective support.