Reasonable adjustments are subjective, and the term is often overused; well, I think it is!
Let me give you an example. I recently worked with someone who thought it reasonable that her employer makes sure she feels in a good mood when she goes home. Now on the surface, that might sound reasonable, but let’s think about it, what is entailed in making sure someone is in a good mood has many variables. This could include interactions within the workplace, conversations, and even things that that individual has brought into the workplace. Suddenly that doesn’t sound like a reasonable adjustment; it sounds like a dream!
The equality act gives us some guidance on what reasonable is, but even this isn’t enough as we try and work out what is helpful in the workplace. So here are some of my thoughts on how we can get to reasonable:
Something needs to be effective in removing a barrier!
So will the reasonable adjustments remove the barrier, and will it do it for the long term? In being effective, there is another question, will it work with the rest of the organisation? This is a wise argument as it might be effective for the individual but not for the employer.
Real-world example, I worked with a teacher struggling to keep their stuff together. She worked across ten different classrooms, and because of her short-term memory, things were never in the right place. Several reasonable adjustments were considered, including an electronic calendar and some creative processes to ensure her stuff was moved to the right place at the right time. Along with several other exciting and innovative options on the surface, these all seem great, but they were on the complicated side.
Would you agree?
Ultimately, the changes involved giving that teacher a fixed classroom so that their stuff didn’t need to move.
As a result, they didn’t need to remember to move. It turned out to be a brilliant adjustment because it was simple and solved the problem. This problem could have been solved in far more complicated ways that would have ultimately broken down and put more significant strain on everyone.
Don’t let the solution become part of the problem with reasonable adjustments!
It’s got to be practical!
Being practical matters. If it’s not, we all end up in a big mess.
Being practical means it needs to be practical to implement and practical to use both for the individual and the organisation. Perspective is critical here because what is practical for the individual may not be practical for the organisation. In the same way, what is practical for the organisation may not be practical for the individual.
I hope your head is not spinning with the word Practical now!
So to work out what this means, we must have conversations and not throw lists of stuff over fences metaphorically or otherwise because reasonable adjustments are all about including people, not putting additional barriers up.
I worked with an individual with anxiety issues around understanding what they needed to do and when. The organisation conducted an assessment that suggested several interventions, including using whiteboards, apps and other to-do list-style reminders. Giving credit to the individual and the organisation, they’d worked through several different solutions and finally came to the one they felt best: the to-do list app. The app itself worked fine. Things got tricky when multiple managers used the same account to set tasks, and the individual was confused about who she was accountable to and for what.
This is an excellent example of something that started off incredibly practical but became impractical because the process around it got confusing. In this situation, there was a simple remedy of using initials for each manager. This illustrates that we have to keep reviewing what’s going on; otherwise, we will likely make adjustments to the problem.
Though I say, the remedy was simple, getting the individual managers involved to buy into it and implement it is still an ongoing process.
Never forget the people element of change.
How much are these reasonable adjustments going to cost?
Cost is significant, especially in our current economic climate. Many adjustments are not expensive, particularly for neurodivergent individuals. Often they are about process changes that positively impact individuals across the organisation. There are also grants and schemes available to support equipment purchases, potential coaching, and other ongoing support.
I think it’s helpful to approach adjustments like a project, considering their merits and impact on the individual and the business.
We often don’t know how an adjustment will work until it’s tested.
When it’s tested, it’s essential to understand what needs to be modified and the fitness of the adjustment to perform the task. There can sometimes be a train of thought from the individual that suggests this is being paid for me, so I have to use it regardless of if it adds benefit. This isn’t helpful and can sometimes result in individuals creating additional obstacles for themselves to use something unsuitable.
Real-world example: I worked with someone recently who was given some dictation software as part of a reasonable adjustment. On spending a bit more time with them, it became apparent that they were touch typists who was very comfortable with writing at speed and accuracy. But they felt very obliged to the organisation to use the software that ultimately slowed them down and didn’t allow them to operate at their best.
We need to talk to people, not just provide vanilla solutions, because we think we understand them.
In the long term, it’s essential to keep adjustments as simple as possible and actively remove the ones that no longer serve a purpose.
All adjustments need to have a review-by date built in.
Do they still work, or does something need to be done differently? Otherwise, we risk assuming that we did something once and that it will last for a lifetime.
I was thinking about my car. Would I seriously take my vehicle for one service in its lifetime and have one MOT and never have another?
Once we’ve looked at all this stuff, there is an implication that if we conclude something is reasonable, there is a legal obligation to do it. But don’t forget to make sure solving the problem is a reasonable adjustment, not the particular way you do it as things change.
Note: The Equality Acts linchpin is that once an adjustment has been deemed reasonable, it is unlawful not to implement it. That’s why it’s essential to consider what is reasonable as part of the implementation, then build reviews and document conversations that will allow you to respond to the individual’s needs and business requirements.
It’s about trust and an ongoing conversation about what works and what doesn’t.
No one needs adjustments that don’t work for them or the business so ensure you keep this alive and real.
If you need help navigating this, don’t hesitate to contact me at The Neurodivergent Coach.