Since we were children, attendance and punctuality have been equated with good ethics and moral character. Getting a ‘perfect attendance’ or a ‘most punctual’ award at the end of a school year was something to strive for!
In fact, I’ll bet if you were one of those students who walked in late to class, the seated students stared you down as you shuffled, red-faced, to your desk, and your teacher came up with what she thought were witty phrases to add insult to injury.
“Glad you could join us, Mr. Mason.”
“I’m sorry my class is interrupting your free time.”
“Mr. Harris manages to get here every day on time. Why can’t you?”
Yikes! Nobody misses those embarrassing school days, huh?
The problem is, neurodivergent employees still have to face this at work all the time. As their supervisor, it’s important for you to know how to address these situations without unintentionally alienating your workforce.
Time Blindness Can Cause Chronic Lateness
Many neurodivergent people experience something called ‘time blindness’, which means they are unable to sense the chronological passing of time.
People with time blindness often underestimate or overestimate how long it will take them to get from point A to point B when traveling and how long it will take them to complete a project. They also frequently arrive late to events, even if they have been looking forward to going.
Time blindness can also show up as ‘losing track of time’ when hyper-focused on a project and not being able to tell exactly when something happened in the past. For example, “I saw my aunt just the other day” when you really haven’t visited in months!
Flexible Start and Stop Times Can Ease Guilt and Anxiety
For neurodivergent employees who struggle with time blindness, flexible start and stop times at work can go a long way in helping ease the guilt and anxiety associated with chronic lateness. Someone whose brain is unable to accurately measure the passage of time is not lazy or uncaring, it’s something they cannot control.
Since they’ve probably been called out for it all their lives, they may also have anxiety around their time blindness, which can decrease their sense of well-being, creativity, and productivity on the job.
Working at Home Can Be Built into a Flexible Schedule Model
In addition to flexible start and stop times, being able to work from home can be beneficial to your autistic and ADHD employees for multiple reasons, including:
Reduced sensory overload
For autistic employees, fluorescent lights, music, ambient office noises, and the smell of perfume, coffee, and microwaved food can cause sensory overload, which means our brains must divert all of our attention and energy into trying to manually shut out the sensory input, leaving nearly nothing left to spend on actual work. Working from home means having a controlled environment that accommodates the individual, which reduces anxiety and increases productivity.
In addition to sights, smells, and textures that our brains cannot automatically filter out, working at the office also means random interruptions from co-workers to make small talk, which can significantly impair our ability to continue with projects. Working from home eliminates small talk and allows us to focus and process the way our brains were designed.
Less pressure to socialize
When an autistic or ADHD employee is permitted to work from home, there is less pressure to socialize either in the office or at after-work functions. This allows the neurodivergent person time to rest and recuperate from the day without expending extra energy we don’t have in a social situation not designed for our neurology.
Better work-life balance
Working from home can also help improve work-life balance. For example, a lunch break that may have been spent at a noisy restaurant with co-workers can now consist of a quiet meal, reading, walking, taking a power nap, cuddling with a pet, or spending time with a loved one.
Neurodivergent Employees May Need More Time for Self-Care
Another important part of providing flexible work schedules to employees is understanding that built-in mental health days are important, especially if you have neurodivergent workers.
Since we live in a world that was not designed with our neurology in mind, we often get tired and overwhelmed in traditional working environments. This means we are going to need built-in mental health days without the fear of losing wages or other repercussions (especially if your company doesn’t offer work-from-home options).
This could look like allowing an employee to take a mental health day without requiring a doctor’s note, docking wages, or reprimanding them.
Understandably, you wouldn’t want your workers to hardly ever show up for work, but finding a healthy balance between the two extremes (showing up every single day regardless of mental health, or hardly coming in at all) can make your neurodivergent employees feel more appreciated, comfortable, and valued within your company.