As it’s World Autism Awareness week, we are raising awareness around autism and how employers can support life at work for people with autism.
And why is this a cause close to Pareto’s values? Well my name’s Chris Barnes, Senior Account Manager at Pareto FM, and I have autism. I was diagnosed late on in life, but we always knew there was something slightly different about how I see and interacted with the world around me. So it was always only a matter of time before the diagnosis came along.
I have come to realise how my coping strategies and how I plan my working week plus each day have helped me loads over my career in FM. As I’ve got older, I need to start helping and supporting younger people with autism to show them that nothing is impossible. I now know that I should start telling more people about my journey and hopefully encourage more people to be open about who they really are. Plus get support to have a career in FM or any industry.
I hid my autism for years and would mask my coping strategies for fear for being treated differently. I worried I would not be trusted to take on responsibility in companies and it would hold me back in my career. However, only in the last three years have I realised that being myself and being open by bringing my whole self to work means I can give 100 per cent of me to my role. This extends to my teams and my clients too. When mentoring I’m always telling people to be themselves, get out there, let the world know you’re there and doing a bloody good job. We need to shout about it ! Then I realised I needed to do that too. I needed to listen to my own advice – so here we are.
Sadly, some people still cannot cope with things like this in the workplace. People still feel it’s ok to joke about these topics, but this is when discrimination is at it’s worst. As people think it’s just ‘banter’ but it is wrong. It happened to me a long time ago, unfortunately back then large companies had the so called ‘D&I networks’ and the marketing savvy strap lines but never actually lived by what they said. It was a hard time.
Fast forward to today and I’m happily working in a truly diverse and supportive team in Pareto. A place where I can truly be myself and concentrate on delivering day to day and not worry about hiding who I am.
Getting the diagnosis helped me realise how I see the world around me, and more importantly how others see me. I became aware of how I was acting and this has helped me with communication and interactions with how I manage people, problems.
I still have coping strategies that help me day to day. I use the Flare ‘Calmer’ in ear device that reduces stress from noise around me. This is absolutely key when traveling on the train or very busy / noisy areas. They help me process what’s going on and keep my mind on track. I plan ahead loads too. I plan journeys as much as I can. I use street view all the time, so I know and I am familiar if going somewhere I’ve never been before.
This is actually a topic I get asked about a lot in relation to how can you plan when everyday in FM is so different? Well, that’s actually what makes it work, the constant is that every day in FM is different. Problems always happen, things always need fixing and we deliver a robust PPM schedule. When you’ve been up and down the country looking after clients / buildings / teams for 25 years it’s all very familiar, and ultimately comforting.
Clients change but the way I support, problem solve and build client relationships stays the same. Buildings change but how I plan PPMs daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly is the same and I strive to improve every time how can we make this better next time. I do like to consider could we have responded better, quicker, more accurately or could we have utilised better technology. Ultimately, it all stays the same. Also teams change, we know that. But all anyone wants is the opportunity to be themselves, to be the best version of themselves and that never changes. FM is just one big puzzle that needs putting into place over and over again. I like puzzles. That’s what gets me to my happy place.
Recently I attended a lunch and learn Workshop organised by ‘Ambitious about Autism’. That’s when the penny dropped that so many people are still not in full time employment. Plus that we need to do so much more to encourage and build truly diverse teams by recognising the benefits of employing people with autism. So, this triggered me to know I needed to do more. Therefore, I’m putting myself out there as a mentor. I sit on the Pareto Inclusion Committee and I’m doing my bit to try and make a difference. If you want to know more the webinar is here.
This ‘lunch and learn’ session helps participants to gain an understanding of the social, communication and sensory differences a person with autism may present with and how the condition affects everyone differently. They share helpful hints and tips for how to support someone with autism in the workplace, with the opportunity to ask questions of an expert trainer. The webinars are delivered monthly, using Zoom, so you can book your place on a date that suits you.
Hopefully, this week we can raise a bit of awareness and help businesses realise the potential in a neurodiverse workforce. Fingers crossed we can inspire someone out there who wants to take the leap into FM but is worried that they can’t be themselves. Plus, that being your true self is nothing to be scared of at all, in fact being yourself, is what we all should be striving to be.
Facilitate is writing about the neurodiverse workplace in our May-June 2021 edition. If you have a story to tell, please get in touch with us at [email protected]