“Cognassist is a brilliant idea, I think this should be part of any work environment!” – James’ Openreach story
The differences between an education and a workplace environment can create challenges that we’re not always aware of, and it can take a while to understand the reasons for ourselves.
James remembered education as a very mixed experience, “I loved a wide range of subjects in school, from the creative to the technology sides. I enjoyed escapism too, which I now put down to my home life. I also struggled with writing in school. I often had a lot of comments from teachers on how bad my handwriting was.
“What I do remember in secondary school is I didn’t struggle as much as I do now. I think this is because there were fewer variables. My timetable was set in a two-week rotation, which provided structure and rhythm everything happened in a set routine. Even the after-school clubs and classes were all set in stone with very little change. I thrive in consistency, and school was a perfect place for this.”
It was in college that things took a turn for James, “The college was a much less supportive environment, not through a lack of interest, as I believe they wanted to simulate a more realistic ‘Adult environment’. However, I don’t think I was ready for that shift with all the other changes going on in my life. I went from a straight-A student to barely scraping by.”
“I was a different person, less outgoing and less confident in myself. My grades had further slipped and my dreams of getting into university were gone. The college was supportive through all of this, however, doing what they could to keep me going. They identified that my handwriting could be down to dyspraxia, and so gave me a laptop in which to do my exams so my poor handwriting would not affect my marks. However by this point, the damage had been done, and I needed a new plan.”
James meets Cognassist
“When I joined Openreach, I hadn’t considered myself as neurodivergent. It was only when working closely with some colleagues who have had a diagnosis that the penny dropped. I began to associate much more with the traits of autism, which, when put into the context of my childhood, makes much more sense.”
When James learned about Cognassist, he was excited to start, “I was made up, first of all, that Openreach was even considering working with a reputable company that could help people better understand themselves. I think it’s important for employers to acknowledge that their workforce are not drones. Each employee is individual, and to provide blanket treatment is ineffective and counterproductive and can drive negative engagement. Whereas using tools such as this available to us allows a greater understanding of the individual needs of your employees.
“I was also made up on a personal level. I had used an online [neurodiversity] survey, but I wasn’t entirely certain on its accuracy, and because of this, I stalled and didn’t allow myself to be open with what I believed I was. I felt slightly like a fraud despite the traits I have displayed consistently over the years. Cognassist’s assessment gave me the confidence to own my individuality in this space and talk more openly about it in work.”
Understanding our cognitive differences and diversity can sometimes surprise us, but at other times confirm something about ourselves, “If I am honest, I didn’t know what to expect. As I said above, I had an idea in my mind, but with the last assessment I had done I wasn’t certain of its accuracy. So I questioned if I associated with autism as an explanation for behaviour that could just be who I was, a reason for why I felt this way.
“The results helped to validate that and helped me come to terms with who I am. They also provided some really useful coping strategies, most of which I already do (which was also a relief to know that I’m doing the stuff I should be) and some that I have explored since to make my life a bit smoother.”
How Cognassist helped his journey
“After receiving the results, I have had conversations with my peers and management to help them understand how I best work and to adapt as much as possible to ensure a smooth working relationship.
“If I had the ability to use Cognassist when joining Openreach, I feel that this journey would have been expedited somewhat.”
Like James, it’s essential to take the time to think about our different ways of thinking and what our employers can do to empower this and ensure a more streamlined and supportive working environment.
These small changes can have a considerable impact, “The biggest benefit has been the confidence to use this in the workplace. To be able to explain to my managers and peers that removing a meeting on the day can impact me in a rather large way when I have planned to attend and what I’m going to say. To explain to my colleagues that I’m 5 minutes late not because I don’t care about the topics the call is in for, but because I struggle with timekeeping at the best of times.”
However, it’s clear from our perspective what has been the most meaningful impact for James, one that can be hard for any of us to achieve, “It’s also helped me to be kinder to myself. I can be very self-critical at times, and I am my own worst enemy. Whereas, this has allowed me to give myself a break and to understand that there are underlying reasons for most of my behaviours.”
James’ one-sentence Cognassist review
“I think this is a brilliant idea, I actually think this should be part of any work environment.”
“I have since asked my doctors to refer me for an official diagnosis as I don’t feel comfortable declaring without that. However, what Cognassist has allowed me to do is talk more openly in confirming what I thought I knew.”
We couldn’t be happier for James.
His continued journey and passion show the huge value in employers understanding and respecting our differences within a modern workplace, “As I said before, it’s super important for employers to move away from the ‘Employees are just a number approach’, giving blanket treatment to all their employees as this is proven to not work effectively. Yes, it may capture what they feel is the majority of their workforce, but it causes isolation to others who don’t fit the stereotypes.
“Using tools such as Cognassist, employers can get a better understanding of who their employees are and, in time, begin to tailor their approach to support people in a multitude of different ways. These things don’t have to be big, huge adjustments, something as simple as regular breaks through the day, as opposed to three longer breaks, could make the world of difference.”
James’ final thoughts on what the future looks like for him are a credit to his character, “I would like to say thank you to the people on both sides of the fence for making this happen. It is reassuring to see that people want to make a difference and work towards a brighter future, it wouldn’t be possible without the hard work involved in keeping these topics alive and talked about.”
And we want to say thank you, James.
It’s stories like James’ that make our work at Cognassist truly worthwhile and help us to feel like we are getting closer to a brighter future for all neurodiverse talent. There’s a lot of work to be done, but it starts with employers, like Openreach, making the decisions to empower their people.
James isn’t alone.
Can we help empower your people?