Communication Strategies for Inclusive and Healthy Workplaces

Photo Credit:  Alexis Brown/Unsplash

Photo Credit: Alexis Brown/Unsplash

Accommodation for mental health and neurodiversity is difficult because these disabilities are invisible or misunderstood, and the accommodation needed is often subtle or interpersonal. It is easier to ask an employer for a button to open the door, and harder to make specific requests about your social environment. Even identifying specific requests can be a challenge.

Mara Toombs is reachAbility’s Success 40 Facilitator.

Mara Toombs is reachAbility’s Success 40 Facilitator.

As we strive to develop more healthy and inclusive workplaces, and to align with accessibility laws (for example, with Bill 59 in Nova Scotia), the question we hear often is “How do we accommodate invisible disabilities such as those associated with mental health?

One way to approach this sort of accommodation is by making changes to your workplace culture that create a safe space for all people to communicate their interpersonal needs.

An inclusive workplace needs space for communication requests. We need to promote a culture of communication about communication and not assuming everyone has the same needs. These could be small request such as “please slow down when you speak to me,” or "because of my mental health I am sensitive to yelling and loud voices, so please try to speak more quietly to me." More complex requests would also be welcome such as, “I would like a mentor assigned to me who I can bring with me to meetings with supervisors, allowing me to debrief with someone supportive after the meeting."

To start we need to figure out what kind of communication supports wellness for the relevant parties or your staff in general. Whenever possible, it is ideal to address an issue with a change to the office culture or policies rather than only for the individual who has made the request. We do not know who else might benefit, but does not speak up. Some examples of broad changes that might benefit your workplace culture include:

  • Starting meetings with a reading of a set of communication agreements such as:

  • Making time for regular positive communication.

  • Committing to giving people choices instead of orders when possible.

  • Clear plain language job descriptions can help communication of expectations.

  • Leadership to model this culture.

Beyond these communication best practices, individuals might need specific accommodation. Leadership is often needed in order to define these accommodations, as the vulnerable member of your team might not have the capacity to advocate for themselves in this area. Additionally, there is a question of what can we even ask for? Some examples we have seen through our work:

  • To have meetings early in the day to accommodate staff whose anxiety builds in the afternoon.

  • To give feedback in writing so a staff can look at it with someone they trust and take time to absorb it.

  • To protect quiet working time for staff that are sensitive to the interruptions that characterize office life.

Your workplace could benefit from Disability Awareness Training - offered by reachAbility. It can be customized and offered on topics relevant to your organization. For more information, please visit http://www.reachability.org/diversity-awareness-training/.