Around 1% of the World’s population have a stammer, yet it’s a disability that rarely gets any airtime. This Friday 22nd October marks Stammering Awareness Day, which this year is aiming to see and hear more stammering voices in popular culture such as TV & radio. In this article, we explore how having a stammer might impact someone’s work life and how employers can support them.
With any disability you can’t see, it’s easy to let it become taboo and not talk about it, but when you’re working with people day in, day out, a stammer can be difficult to hide. As an employer of someone who suffers, there are things you can do to help make them feel empowered with their stammer, rather than ashamed of it.
It might take someone who stammers a bit of time to talk about their condition, and the most important thing is to follow their lead. It’s key to not be overbearing and try and talk about their stammer if they don’t want to. Instead, the best thing to do is to talk about ways in which you can support them. For example on their first day, they may have trouble introducing themselves, minimising the amount of times they have to do this can go miles to making them feel comfortable and happy.
For someone who suffers with a stammer, it’s so easy to focus on that and forget about all the strengths you bring to the table. As an employer, you can focus on those brilliant skills and nurture them. When someone feels more confident in themselves, a stammer often becomes less of a worry in turn.
A performance review can be nerve wracking for anyone, let alone someone who struggles with communication. Nerves are likely to aggravate a stammer, so approaching a feedback session with the aim to support the employee rather than criticise will likely make them feel much more comfortable and open. Focus on times when they communicated effectively, even if they did stammer, and praise this. It’s also a great opportunity to review any reasonable adjustments which can help the person in day-to-day work. For example, if phone calls make them nervous and stammer more, perhaps an email might be a better approach.
It’s important to ensure your hiring process is inclusive. Looking for a new job is a challenge and people rarely love to attend interviews. Make sure every person who is going to meet your potential candidate is prepared to experience someone with a stammer, because you wouldn’t want the candidate to be put off by a bad experience with a receptionist, or deterred by a phone interview. In an interview, it’s important to give someone with a stammer more time to get their thoughts out, be patient and understanding. It’s very easy to suffer unconscious bias and misinterpret a stammer as nervousness, hesitation or even lying. It’s essential to fight through this bias and remember that they are just trying to get their point across, and it may take them longer than others.
It’s also helpful to reconsider wording in your job descriptions – ‘excellent communication’ is often used, but what do we actually mean by this? Communication skills can mean someone who is great at stakeholder management, excellent at writing etc.
It’s easy to think everyone would be understanding about a disability at work, but research shows that people who stammer face casual discrimination every day. As with everything, it’s crucial to have a no-tolerance culture for bullying in the workplace. Look out for discrimination and put a stop to it as soon as possible. It’s also key to keep an open conversation with the employee to ensure they feel they can tell you if something is bothering them.
Working with a stammer can present many barriers and potential issues, however with the right support and empowerment, every employee can achieve their full potential every day.
Research and image taken from https://stamma.org/
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