ASD and workplace expectations

You have been successful in getting a job which is fantastic! This is a great achievement as many people with ASD struggle to gain employment and many then do not succeed in maintaining their employment. There are many reasons for this but the two areas that give the greatest challenges for many adults with ASD, are the difficulties with communication and the social interactions involved in a workplace. As an adult with ASD you may experience difficulties in understanding your bosses and work colleagues expectations.

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Workplace etiquette is the mostly unwritten rules that adults with ASD may struggle to understand and respond too, which adds a further layer to your communication challenges and ability to manage social interactions. If you have a workplace mentor, a trusted colleague or friend ask them to assist you. If you had a part time job as a teenager you may already be aware of some of these rules however, as an adult it is more important now for you to be aware of the rules as co-workers can be less forgiving in the adult work environment.

First you need to understand or be aware of your ASD traits and how these may be interpreted by others in the workplace. Remember most of your co-workers will not have ASD and may not understand what ASD is. You may or may not have disclosed to your boss that you have ASD, this is your choice but is worth considering as certain things may need to be put into place for you to achieve success at work eg. a workstation that is away from most of the “people traffic” in an office.

Let’s have a look at some of the workplace etiquette unwritten rules:

  • As an adult with ASD you know what rules are and they are in place help everyone to function effectively. In a workplace not everyone follows the rules and for you this might seem strange and be in conflict with your need to be honest. Remember it is not your job to police other people’s behaviour.
  • Punctuality- it is expected that you arrive at work on time, take your allocated breaks and return from breaks on time. Time management is essential for success with this and is a major part of managing your workload.
  • Absenteeism- if you are sick or not able to go to work due to some other issue, it is expected you will let your boss know that you won’t be at work and when you hope to be back. It is very important that you understand your workplace and what is and isn’t an acceptable reason to not come to work.
  • Communication- it may be one of your ASD traits that you like to work alone. This is not always possible in the workplace. You may need to be part of a team of co-workers and problem solving abilities are necessary for success. It will require you to be aware of any propensity you may have to take over conversations, go off on a tangent or say exactly what you think which could be seen as rude or arrogant.
  • Interactions with your co-workers- topics of conversation that are usually avoided in the workplace are those to do with religion, politics or finances, as these topics can often cause conflicts due to many differing opinions and people’s privacy.
  • Personal topics of conversation- co-workers could also take offense to discussions that are personal such as race, sexual orientation or certain physical characteristics eg. person’s gender, what they wear or how they look.
  • Personal space- social interactions in the workplace are inevitable so understanding personal space is important. Don’t stand too close to another person or start a conversation on an inappropriate subject, for instance; the fact that a co-worker has bad breath. It is also okay to spend time alone rather than actively participating in social conversations in the workplace at every break.
  • Social communication- as an adult with ASD you may have learnt about metaphors, idioms, irony and sarcasm eg. an expression like “I am so hungry I could eat a horse”. If you are aware that you still have trouble with this ask your mentor to explain these so it doesn’t cause misunderstandings.
  • First appearances- often people with ASD can appear to be very blunt, rude or arrogant. Much of the workplace interactions relies upon impressions of people. This could be an area for you to discuss with your mentor and you may wish to disclose your ASD to your boss or colleagues so they are aware that you function differently to them.

Workplaces are complex and understanding workplace etiquette can be tricky for everyone but more so for those with ASD. As an adult with ASD these unwritten workplace rules can be managed if you discuss them with someone and put strategies in place to work them out.

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