Managing anxiety in the workplace

Emily Swiatek, Employment Training Consultant with the National Autistic Society gives her advice and practical strategies on how to support autistic employees with managing their anxiety in the workplace.

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Author: Emily Swiatek

Managing anxiety in the workplace

Many autistic people can experience heightened levels of anxiety within work, and if left unmanaged this can lead to longer term complications and time off work. The following three tips offer some simple strategies that may help autistic employees to feel well supported within work, and to manage their anxiety.

  1. Provide clear detail for changes and new processes

Many autistic people find that sudden changes increase their anxiety levels, especially if they feel they do not have clear details on exactly what the change is, why it’s happening and how it will impact them. The same is true for any new processes or procedures that need to be followed.

By providing clear, written/visual details about any changes or new processes and offering employees the opportunity to meet with their manager to discuss things, an autistic employee’s anxiety can often be significantly reduced.

Some examples of this include:

  • providing a written step by step guide
  • sending a follow up email with details of a change after a team briefing
  • showing an autistic employee a new working location before an office move
  • sending photos in advance of new employees joining the team.
  1. Develop a system for communicating anxiety

Concerns about levels of anxiety are often not raised until it’s too late and an employee has already reached the point of overload. By having a clear system in place for communicating anxiety, this can be more easily navigated and preventative steps, such as additional working from home days or slightly amended duties, can be put in place.

Some common systems for communicating this anxiety include using a text message traffic light system (Green = ok, Yellow = some anxiety, Red= very anxious day) or using apps such as Brain in Hand, which allows employees to log their anxiety levels throughout the day and access coping strategies that have been tailored to them.

  1. Share what’s going right

Many autistic employees have a strong perfectionist trait, and may end up feeling anxious about getting their work to a standard of perfection that isn’t necessarily required. Often, this can be rooted in not knowing what’s “right”.

In work we provide detailed feedback when something has gone wrong, but we often don’t provide that same level of feedback when something has been done to the required standard (just a “thank you” or “that’s great”).

By being clear on exactly why a certain aspect of a person’s work is right and being clear about the positive elements of their work, you may be able to reduce some of the anxiety they feel about their performance not being to a high enough standard. 

Further information:

The National Autistic Society: Employment (for autistic people)

The National Autistic Society: Employers

Date added: 25 October 2017


Thu, 02/11/2017 - 12:50

Good points about meeting both the employee and employer needs. I would also address desk location or work station location as the environment is so important to consider when working with folks on the autism spectrum. Thanks for sharing these 3 points.