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Birkbeck experts call for evidence-based approach to supporting dyslexia in the workplace

Academics from Birkbeck's Department of Organizational Psychology found massive variability in the type of dyslexia support available in a work environment. They are now calling for further research to inform an evidence-based approach to supporting dyslexia in the workplace.

Experts from Birkbeck's Department of Organizational Psychology are calling for an evidence-based approach to accommodations made for dyslexic employees in the workplace, finding that there is massive variability in the delivery or type of access support available with practice resting almost entirely on individual judgement.

Dyslexia affects 5-8% of the workforce and is a protected condition under the 2010 Equality Act in the UK, and in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act in the US. This means employers must make reasonable adjustments to assist work functioning and performance.

However most of the existing research on dyslexia interventions is focused on children with little attention given to adults and its impact in a work environment; despite its associations with higher unemployment, lower levels of achievement post-education, and impaired workplace participation.

Almuth McDowall, Professor of Organizational Psychology at Birkbeck, co-led the study. She says: “It is crucial that workplaces are guided by evidence-based interventions in accommodating dyslexia, which means practitioners and policymakers must look into how and why different methods of support work – or don’t.”

Workplace coaching, one of the most frequently deployed forms of dyslexia support in workplaces, is often focused on aiding working memory functions, including time management and organisational skills, rather than other difficulties associated with dyslexia such as literacy issues. Coaching appears to a useful tool in supporting dyslexic employees, which the researchers say may be because it can be adapted for different contexts.

The researchers consulted eight internationally recognised dyslexia experts, alongside dyslexic employees and employers of dyslexic people. Every member of the consultant panel stressed the need for evaluation of current practice, with 45% specifying a need for clarity on coaching interventions specifically. The authors evaluated the literature to find out what works, and found overall little rigorous evidence. Scrutinising a pool of studies from similar contexts in depth (representing a total of 1755 participants) they concluded that coaching needs to be informed by psychology so that individuals learn to set goals and boost their self-belief. The authors also dispel the myth that dyslexia is about reading and spelling difficulties – the condition is far more complex and includes real personal strengths.

First author Dr Nancy Doyle, a Research Fellow at Birkbeck, is well known through the BBC’s Employable Me series (airing on A&E in the USA as ‘The Employables’).  Dr Doyle says: “Coaching activities are routinely prescribed as a disability accommodation in the UK for dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions but there is little established evidence to determine how or in what contexts they work. To improve support for dyslexia in the workplace, we first need to develop a framework of viable interventions, as misguided support can do more harm than good. My main recommendation: if in doubt, ask an occupational psychologist for advice, but make sure that they are specifically trained in this area! Our paper should be essential reading for practitioners working in the field.”

Employers require evidence-based guidance to accommodate work for a potentially vulnerable minority of employees, therefore the researchers recommend further psychological research to test this ‘blind spot’ and build a robust framework of interventions drawing on sound psychology. 

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