As a supervisor at Starbucks, Meseret Kumulchew was responsible for taking the temperature of fridges and water at specific times and entering the results in a duty roster. However, she was accused of falsifying the documents when she entered the wrong information.
After she was given lesser duties and told to retrain, it allegedly left her feeling suicidal. It comes as no surprise then that she took Starbucks to an employment tribunal, saying she had made it known to her employer she was dyslexic.
The tribunal found Starbucks had discriminated against her because of the effects of her dyslexia. Its decision was further explained by Shainaz Firfiray, an assistant professor of organisation & HRM at Warwick Business School, who claimed employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of employees who suffer from disabilities. And often such adjustments are neither expensive nor do they require employers to implement significant changes to their existing policies.
While the case does not set a legal precedent, the British Dyslexia Association said it should be a wake-up call for employers. It estimated that one in ten people have dyslexia to some degree, although many have not been formally diagnosed.
The advocacy group’s CEO, Stephen Hall, said: “Without the correct support, people with dyslexia can suffer a huge loss of confidence and low self-esteem. This is a great shame as those with dyslexia have much to offer in the workplace. Many people with dyslexia work very differently from conventional methods, but employers stand to gain great benefit from the different perspective that this brings and ability to think outside the box.”
And with dyslexia having been defined as a disability in the Equality Act 2010, it is in the best interest of employers to know how to spot the signs and help where it is needed. The former is important given that many dyslexics may feel embarrassment, and may not want to reveal their diagnosis for fear of prejudice or open discrimination. Others might be unaware they have dyslexia as they might associate dyslexia with literacy issues only.
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Meanwhile, the performance management continues until, at the point of capability assessment or dismissal, they announce they are, or could be, dyslexic. By then the acknowledgment has come too late. As such, creating awareness in the workplace is your first port of call. Why? Because working memory difficulties have a big impact on team colleagues and can lead to conflict. This can be hard to resolve given that the dyslexic employee knows they are trying their best and feels it is unfair to have their performance questioned.
Once spotted, however, what effective workplace adjustments can employers make to support staff with the condition?
We need to make sure that employees are given time and support during the learning process. With that in mind, planning and mapping tasks for the day will help save time when it comes to execution. Sitting down to methodically map out tasks according to a schedule allows staff to maintain focus, and will reduces stress.
Firfiray also suggested that dyslexic employees can be more effective in their roles if they are encouraged to communicate their workplace difficulties, “given advance notice of challenging tasks and provided the support to perform tasks without giving them the impression that their abilities are being doubted.”
Fonts are an effective tool to enable reading and understanding. There is a multitude of downloads available online, one of the best of which is OpenDyslexic. This font adds gravity and weight to the document: the letters and numbers appear thicker at the bottom. However, remember that one font size may not fit all, so test different fonts to see what works best for staff.
Changing the background colour of the computer screen can also enable staff to work better as dyslexia is affected by colours. Most literacy support software has a screen-masking option, which tints all active screens with a preferred colour.
Using text-to-speech software is also another option. It will enable staff to write an email or message and have it read back to you to ensure it’s exactly what you meant to say.
Bu possibly the most important task at hand is to ensure your staff embrace all colleagues – foster a culture where employees will able to talk to colleagues freely. It may be hard to understand dyslexia if you don’t have it, so knowing people will have the patience to know more about the subject and help where they can will serve to create a happier workforce.
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