The need for a supportive environment in the workplace

The modern workplace can be challenging for ADHD and autistic adults.

In a recent report (Willis Towers Watson, 2023), over 70% of neurodivergent employees said they had a co-occurring mental health condition, and over 50% said they felt at risk of imminent burnout.

Shockingly, another recent report (Autistica/DARE, 2023) explained that reasonable adjustments are not implemented, and, so, people are reluctant to ask for them.

Moreover, it was recently found (Doyle, 2020) that many providers of workplace support for neurodivergent people do not possess sufficient expertise to help effectively, and may “wilfully” attribute difficulties to stress or a mere lack of motivation, especially for women and people of colour, showing bias and potentially creating indirect discrimintation.

Furthermore, academic research on autistic burnout (Raymaker et al., 2020) found that managing conditions like burnout and being dismissed or misunderstood with regards to your experiences all contribute to burnout.

As such, if you are working in an organisation (whether full or part time), part of you being able to thrive – instead of just survive – means having a supportive working environment which meets your needs.

It also means that anyone helping you needs to understand your neurodivergence, work on their unconscious bias, and learn the appropriate skills and methods for supporting you in a way you want.

Did you know that it’s possible to access a form of coaching which educates and develops your line manager or mentor to better support you? This is called co-coaching. The UK government can fund it through Access to Work, or your organisation may fund it from their training/CPD budgets.

What is co-coaching?

Coaching normally involves a helping discussion between one person and the coach.

In co-coaching, the coaching occurs between two people and the coach – you and your line manager work with me at the same time.

You would speak with me together at the start of co-coaching and decide together what needs to be worked on and achieved. Then, you and your line manager receive some solo coaching on these areas you have chosen before we come together for some collaborative coaching sessions on those topics to finish.

Why do people do it?

People do co-coaching to understand each other’s position, find ways of working together that work for both parties, and to create new ways of working and rules of engagement for your work together. It also helps line managers learning about neurodivergence for the first time to understand your situation and develop willingness and skills to be able to better support you in the workplace.

What are the benefits to you?

In general, I see that people who undergo co-coaching with their line manager benefit from

  • a line manager with increased knowledge of and empathy towards neurodivergence
  • positive changes in their working relationship with their line manager
  • increased or improved reasonable adjustments
  • increased desire for the line manager to work with the rest of the team to create the working environment and working relationships with others that you need
  • greater openness, honesty, authenticity and transparency when working with their line manager – both from the manager and from you

If the co-coaching works well, this can all result in a better workplace experience, lower stress, and a reduction in burnout risk.

How does it work?

Once you have been awarded co-coaching, I will set up a meeting for you, I and the line manager. We will agree together what you both want to discuss and achieve in the conversations.

I will also speak/email separately with the line manager to determine if they have any individual or private goals for the 121 element of the coaching – and I will do the same for you. This allows you both to have the chance to safely ask me questions or discuss anything difficult with lowered anxiety. I should say that confidentiality is strongly kept by me, and anything discussed in solo sessions is not shared with the other person in our co-coaching.

Once we have agreed what you both want to achieve from the coaching – separately and together – I embark on working on coaching with you both individually for several sessions before we come together and I facilitate discussions about the joint goals/desired outcomes e.g. how to run meetings in a neuro-affirmative way or how to set and follow-up on tasks in a way that works for your brain.

Finally, once all solo and joint coaching sessions are run, we come back together to review progress, positive changes, any work or actions still to be done, and to check both parties are well and happy following the process.

How do you get it?

In the UK, the government’s Access to Work scheme will recommend and fund co-coaching. It is not as commonly awarded as other supports and many people don’t know it exists and so do not know to suggest they’d like it in their Access to Work assessment.

In some Access to Work assessments, the assessor will ask you if there are any other supports that you want or need. Here would be the time in the conversation when you should ask about any co-coaching that you want.

It may be that you do not want to apply for Access to Work or there is no need because your company has good budgets and policies around paying for development and coaching for its people. This is more likely if you are in a more senior role, of course. If your organisation has budget for such activities, you could speak to HR or the learning and development team to ask them to fund your co-coaching.

What are your next steps?

If you want co-coaching, then the first step is to contact me to discuss if this would be suitable for you and receive a no-commitment quote.

Once you have your quote, then you can speak to Access to Work or to the relevant contact in your organisation to ask them to offer/confirm that you can go ahead with co-coaching. Around this time, it is a good idea for you or any advocates or senior supporting colleagues to speak with your line manager to say that co-coaching is on offer, and ask for their engagement.

Once you have your go-ahead for any co-coaching, then you can simply contact me again and ask to start the co-coaching at the earliest possible chance. (I may have a small wait list of a couple of weeks.)

After you and I have agreed that I will deliver the co-coaching, you, I and your line manager will meet online for me to explain how it all works to both parties. We will also agree the broad topic areas and goals for you both to have addressed in the co-coaching. Finally, we will diaries the solo and joint sessions and then begin the co-coaching programme.

If you are planning to fund your co-coaching and other support through Access to Work but have not applied, you can do so here. It takes several months to set this up so applying soon is crucial if you have an urgent need for help.

The initial online application only takes 10 minutes. You also don’t need a diagnosis to apply. If you have any questions at all about applying to Access to Work or would like to ask me about co-coaching more generally, feel free to get in touch.

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