How to Retain Employees with Autism
Once you have made the investment to hire an employee with autism and actively support them through the probationary period, it makes sense to do everything possible to make sure they stick around – especially when you discover just how productive, reliable and loyal employees on the autism spectrum can be.
There are five key factors to success:
- Ongoing support is essential.
It’s not unusual for job coaching support to dwindle or stop completely after a few months, especially if the employee with autism is doing well. But no job stays exactly the same and organizations are continually growing and evolving. Whether it’s a new process or procedure, manager replacement or office relocation, people on the spectrum handle change well if they know what to expect. As employers, we need to give them as much advance notice as possible, as well as all the necessary training and documentation needed, and appoint a “go-to” person should they have questions.
- Provide ongoing informal feedback.
Autistics have high expectations regarding their productivity and performance. Without regular feedback, they may think they are not doing well and will get anxious. And if they make a mistake, they may want to quit. To an autistic employee, it can be black or white, all or nothing, when it comes to their job performance. Continuous informal feedback, such as “nice job” or “don’t worry, we’re all waiting for the system to come back online”, will make a big difference. And of course, we need to keep in mind the learning curve should we promote the employee or add to their responsibilities. We just need to make sure they receive proper training and support throughout the transition.
- Conduct autism-friendly performance reviews.
Performance reviews can be highly stressful for people on the spectrum, causing a “flight or fight” response from what they can perceive as a threat. At Focus, we have achieved great success by turning the performance review into a two-way interaction. The autistic employee is a partner throughout the process, having the first word and the last, which helps lessen any perceived threat and alleviates anxiety.
- Create a pro-active mental health program in your workplace.
People on the autism spectrum are prone to anxiety and depression, which makes sense as they are continually expected to cope in a neurotypical world. Even neurotypicals are challenged in coping with our modern-day world. As employers, we can either be reactive, handling mental health issues as they occur, which will inevitably impact productivity and be upsetting for the employee, or we can be proactive. One idea is to schedule a regular “mental health check-in” to discuss how things are going. Catching changes in morale or motivation will allow us to take corrective action.
- Take steps to ensure the autistic employee feels accepted.
We all want to feel included, part of the group, and people on the spectrum are no different. To foster inclusion, encourage the autistic employee to participate in decision-making and idea sharing in addition to their job role, and ensure they are part of the company’s network of emotional support.