Elevated rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide apply across the entire autism spectrum. These co-morbid conditions are a reflection of experiences made in the social environment rather than a reflection of autism specific neurology. The latest research confirms that bullying plays a major role, reflecting the strong consensus within the autistic community that bullying is one of the most important issues that needs to be addressed. Due to differences in social cognition non-autistic people are less willing to interact with autistic peers based on thin slice judgements.
Creating and maintaining a psychologically safe environment is fundamental for the flourishing of autistic and otherwise neurodivergent staff.
A genuinely safe environment allows all employees to be themselves, take risks, make mistakes, raise problems, ask questions, and disagree.
In an unsafe environment the individuals that find themselves at the receiving end of discrimination and various forms of bullying do not have access to any trusted party that is in a position to assist and address the situation with effective measures. For organisations in which staff experience unsafe environments this means that the organisation is not in a position to address the problem without external assistance.
Often discrimination, bullying and exploitation occurs as part of programmes that claim to assist neurodivergent and vulnerable employees. There is no shortage of highly concerning examples, more than 90% of diversity and inclusion initiatives fail.
Improving and maintaining safety
As part of my work I assist organisations to reduce their implicit (and sometimes explicit) bias against neurodivergent staff. Neurodiversity is the at the core of creativity, and organisations can benefit immensely by supporting neurodivergent staff in suitable ways and by providing an environment that is safe for all employees.
Creating safe collaborative work environments is as much about unlearning traditional management techniques from the industrial era, as it is about reacquainting ourselves with our innate collaborative tendencies and relearning how to be curious and how to think critically.
A bullying alert system for employees
If you find yourself in a work environment where you frequently have to mask or tend to be penalised for taking risks, making mistakes, raising problems, asking questions, or disagreeing with your colleagues, you are in an unsafe environment.
You can use the form below to report the context of your situation in anonymised form (use a temporary email address as needed to protect your identity). Reporting of unsafe work environments allows me to undertake the following actions:
- Get in touch with the organisation (and specific contact person if specified) to discuss the concerns you raise in a way that does not identify you as an individual. In some cases, especially when the nominated contact person is someone who genuinely cares about staff well being and is in a suitable position within the organisation, this may lead to an incremental improvement in the workplace culture.
- If the organisation is located in New Zealand or Australia, I can introduce the organisation to the Creativity as a Service offering that S23M provides to help establish and maintain psychological safety on an ongoing basis.
- If you have provided an email address I may be in a position to provide you with initial feedback and suggestions from an independent perspective after I have contacted the organisation.
- Expand our database of concrete examples of psychologically unsafe work environments, which in turn helps me to ensure that our advice considers all the situations that neurodivergent staff experience in practice.
Tip: When describing your environment, think about the context information that is essential (a) to understand the impact of the environment on you and your productivity at work and (b) to initiate positive changes.
Psychological safety improvements for employers
Creative Collaboration is a subscription service that assists organisations in establishing and improving psychological safety and organisational learning on an ongoing basis.
S23M invites you to discover deeper forms of collaboration by transitioning from the information age to the knowledge age.
The service consists of three elements:
- Learning as a Service – four or more Open Space workshops per year, to power a continuous SECI (socialisation, externalisation, combination, internalisation) knowledge creation spiral that breaks through the barriers of established silos and management structures
- Neurodiversity as a Service – access to creative neurodivergent minds, and activation of the neurodivergent talent within your organisation, to question implicit assumptions and to overcome cultural inertia and bias against creativity
- Thinking tools as a Service – access to the MODA + MODE repository of knowledge, and via inquiries to our team, access to our collective tacit knowledge from working with more than 100 organisations, as a foundation for critical thinking and creative experimentation
Background: 18 years ago I discovered Open Space Technology. Since then I have been relying heavily on this format for setting up and running workshops for sharing, validating, and expanding bodies of knowledge. The Open Space principles and the Law of Two Feet seem to have been designed specifically for autistic communication and collaboration needs. Even the way of initiating conversations in Open Space feels highly intuitive from an autistic perspective: (1) write down and briefly explain a problem statement, (2) listen to other problem statements, and then (3) allow participants to self-organise around specific topics of interest.