Two years ago, I visited a Publix in Santa Rosa county to pick up my weekly groceries. I can remember the days of learning fruit and vegetables bar codes along with the iconic “boxing” strategy in packing the customer’s bags at this popular grocery store. I never thought much about all the little tasks it took to complete on customer check until one special day.
The store clerk looked at me and said “You will need to be patient with me. I am diagnosed with autism. I don’t like small talk, but I do like your t-shirt”. What did I expect to happen next?
I recall watching him scan my items through the register, punching in the appropriate codes, and asking me more questions about my graphic t-shirt. I paid for my items, took my buggy to the car, and left. The whole process took about 10 minutes.
Adults transitioning out of secondary school into the workforce bring a multitude of transferable skills, making them highly marketable across highly demanded industries. For instance, acute attention to details is one retail skill managers desperately seek and find it difficult when training new associates. Yes, my store clerk didn’t like small talk. So, he picked a topic of his choice. As the customer, this made me feel valued and noticed. Isn’t that why we wear graphic t-shirts after all? Other skills are adaptability, wittiness, and task-orientation.
There are countless misconceptions and myths about job seekers with neurological diagnoses. The same amount of literature, both academic and informal, exists for hiring Millennials and Generation Z. Historically, newspaper opinion sections questioned the productivity of Generation X.
I offer these tips when managing an employee who may or may not disclose, he/she is on the autism spectrum.
- Think about the job description and the evaluation methods. If the person discloses information to you, work together to determine the best fit for tasks. Always check with your Human Resource department on strategies and tools to use during this process.
- Evaluate. Plan. Act. Help the employee reach attainable goals. If an employee is starting new into the workforce, reflect on the ways you learned a new skill such as operating a cash register. Did you find it easy to learn all-at-one or step-by-step? Did it take you three days or a week? Did someone watch you perform the task and offer feedback?
- Celebrate all wins! This is important for all employees. A task for one person may be more challenging for another. Use the employee’s preferred method of appraisal to show your excitement for the skill acquisition or mastery.
My store clerk is a customer service manager now. He’s creating a career in Publix and hopes to retire by the time Lego Land opens. From time-to-time, he will ask me if I watched any movies related to that graphic t-shirt. Each time it brings a smile to my face, mostly because I always seem to forget I owned that shirt.