Tips to support your autistic employee with relationships at work

Over the course of our working week we often end up spending more time with colleagues than we do our own friends and families. Just as in any relationship, it is important to work hard to build and maintain these working relationships.

Many autistic people will struggle with this aspect of work as very often different workplaces have different and changing dynamics and it is rare that you can find a group of people who all share the same interests and values. Many autistic people prefer to keep work and personal life separate and often struggle with the grey area of friendships at work.
 
Unfortunately, if you don’t have strong interpersonal skills, struggle with aspects of communication and social interaction, don’t understand the company culture, don’t know how to adapt your style to work best with different personality types, or aren’t able to predict and address any potential conflicts before they become problems, you might be subjecting yourself to eye rolls and grudges in the office.

Here are five tips for you to support your autistic employee with relationships at work: 

Buddy

It can be very useful for an autistic employee to have a buddy or a mentor to help understand and navigate a neuro-typical workplace. They may discuss concerns regarding relationships and help identify difficulties and offer an outsider’s perspective. Banter and small talk can be very difficult for autistic people to understand and engage with and we unconsciously use both to build relationships with the people around us. One might assume that if someone does not engage in small talk with us then they do not like us which can impact on a relationship. A buddy might be able to explain the importance of small talk and discuss and practice safe topics such as the weather, sport or weekend activities to build confidence as well as a repertoire.
 

Make unwritten rules clear

We often underestimate the importance of unwritten rules and the stress they may cause to others who do not instinctively pick up on them. For example, if you were to walk onto a bus with only one person sat down and the rest of the seats free, where would you sit? Probably anywhere except next to that person. This was never taught to us, however we instinctively know. At work, we may have dress down Fridays, a tea and coffee rule or rules about who we do and do not make jokes to, however these might not always come naturally to an autistic person. Add these rules to your induction.
 

Give praise

We often think nice things about each other but don’t always say. Encourage a positive working environment where strengths are acknowledged. Whilst constructive criticism is important, creating a balance so that an autistic colleague does not feel they are doing a bad job is imperative. Also, explaining why a piece of work was good will make it more likely to happen again.
 

Provide opportunity

It is important to include your autistic colleague so that they know they are invited and welcome to social events, however this must not be forced. If you are aware that your colleague has sensory differences consider that the places you are suggesting may not be accessible for them. Many autistic people do like to socialise but consider the individuals’ needs, perhaps they need 1:1 or a quiet environment.
 

Don’t take it personally

Like anyone, some autistic people do not see work as somewhere to socialise, and the idea of a Friday night in the pub with colleagues might not be their idea of fun. Try not to take this personally and do not engage in assuming that this person is ‘not a team player’ as this should not reflect on their work ethic.