The Importance of Compassion in the Neuroinclusive Workplace
When people ask me what’s unique about working at auticon, a majority-autistic company, one of the first things that comes to mind is our compassionate workplace culture. I believe that compassion is one of the keys to creating an autism-friendly and neuroinclusive work environment. In this post, I will share some of the ways we practice and cultivate compassion at auticon. I’ll also discuss how other companies can embrace compassion as part of their neurodiversity and DEI efforts.
Compassion vs. Empathy
First, let’s define compassion and clarify how it’s different from empathy, which is often used interchangeably. Empathy is understanding and feeling someone else’s pain; compassion is taking action to help alleviate that pain. For example, you see someone walking along the sidewalk with a large bag of groceries. The bottom of the grocery bag rips and the groceries are strewn across the dirty sidewalk. Empathy is saying to yourself, “Oh no, that’s terrible! That happened to me last week,” but choosing to walk the other direction. Compassion is walking over to pick up the groceries.
The Benefits of Compassion at Work
Compassionate work environments have been shown to be beneficial for everyone. Studies show that compassion in the workplace increases productivity and job tenure, improves relationships, and creates a happier workplace. It also decreases stress, which in turn can reduce burnout and employee turnover rates.
While compassion is important for everyone, it is especially important for neurodivergent employees—those with autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, among other neurotypes. Most traditional workplaces lack understanding and supports for employees who think, learn, and communicate differently, which leads to inequalities in employment. To thrive at work, neurodivergent employees often need supports such as written instructions, flexible schedules, extra processing time, hybrid/work from home options, or preferential seating. Creating a compassionate work environment is key to making sure these needs are understood and met so that each employee can be appropriately supported and thrive in their role.
Lessons from auticon’s Majority-Autistic Team
At auticon, we proactively build compassion into the structure of our company. When a new employee joins us, one of the first things they experience during onboarding is a presentation about compassion in the workplace. We discuss what compassion is, why it’s important, what it looks like in the workplace, and how it can be practiced daily. This sets an expectation for behavior within our company culture. This commitment is reflected in the way our management team treats every single member of our team in every instance.
One of the biggest examples of showing compassion within our company is the idea of time. We know that time is not an infinite resource; it is a limited commodity. But at auticon, time is what we give every one of our employees. For example, during an all-company call, every question asked by an employee will be addressed at some point during the call, or after if time is limited. Another example is that the management team always fits in 1:1 meetings for our employees within a timely manner when requested. This sets a precedent for the rest of our team, who in turn always make time to support their teammates.
Emphasizing well-being within our company culture is another way we practice compassion. For example, last year I had a very bad case of tonsilitis that took me out of work. My team stepped up and took over my tasks while I was out. In another work environment, I may have felt the need to come back earlier than I should have because there was not that support. I came back fully recovered and motivated to do a better job to in turn support my team, who showed me compassion when I needed it. This type of compassion can also be shown by encouraging appointments, allowing time off for family reasons, offering flexible schedules, and providing ample sick and vacation time.
Building a Compassionate Workplace Culture
Now that I have described how we have built a compassionate company culture at auticon, here are some ways you can incorporate compassion into your own workplace:
First, lead by example. If managers are practicing compassion, it is easier for employees to follow that expectation as well. If you see your manager taking the time to support their employees, or if you are the one being supported, it is easier for you to follow that same behavior pattern. This can be done by having open lines of communication, spending 1:1 time getting to know your employees, building in time into your schedule to support others, and openly supporting teammates.
Next, include a compassionate work environment as part of your company values by praising and rewarding acts of compassion within the workplace. An easy way to do this is during a company meeting by praising a teammate for making themselves available for support in front of the whole company.
Well-being is another important aspect of compassion in the workplace. Prioritizing and encouraging work-life balance can go a long way, especially for someone who is neurodivergent and who may need extra breaks during the day, or time off during the week for therapy appointments.
And finally, promote compassion in the workplace by respecting differences in communication, work styles, and backgrounds, and be willing to grow and learn from each other.
In conclusion, fostering compassion in the workplace holds the key to achieving a wide range of company goals, from performance to employee satisfaction to neurodiversity and DEI. By placing compassion at the heart of the company's values, culture, and practices, we can create workplace environments where employees feel truly seen, understood, and supported. As we weave compassion and neuroinclusion into the fabric of our organizational structures, we pave the way for a more empathetic and equitable future, where every team member can thrive and contribute their unique talents to the collective success of the company.
To learn more about building a company culture that embraces and supports neurodiversity, download our free guide for employers, “Neuroinclusion in the Workplace: a 360° Approach.”
About the Author
Reshma Dhawan is the Lead Job Coach at auticon US. She previously had a long career as a special education teacher with a passion for Community Based Instruction and how it could lead to better career outcomes for adults on the autism spectrum. Her interest in this area led her to join auticon in 2020 as a job coach, working with the company’s clients, autistic consulting teams, and technology managers to better support one another and achieve their goals. In her current role as Lead Job Coach, Reshma leads the company’s U.S. job coaching team as well as neurodiversity training for its clients.