Supervising Individuals with ASD in the Workplace: A Managerial Perspective
Objectives: The purpose of our study was to examine the experience of managers who supervise employees with ASD receiving services from an employment specialist during the initial integration period.
Methods: We interviewed five managers who hired individuals with ASD from a specialized employment community program and supervised them during at least three months. During 30- to 60-min individual interviews, managers responded to open-ended questions on hiring, training, adjustment, relationship with colleagues, perception of higher management and support from human resource management professionals. We qualitatively analyzed the data within a post-positivist, pragmatic and realist paradigm (Miles & Huberman, 2003). We recorded interviews for coding line by line and then conducted categorization to identify themes. We also wrote narrative cases for each experience. Themes were tabulated to facilitate comparison. A theoretical framework was used to organize the key themes identified. To verify the trustworthiness of the analysis, we compared our results with the scientific literature and presented them to employment specialists for individuals with ASD.
Results: Time was an important theme in all interviews. Employees with ASD required more time to integrate in a new job than the majority of other employees. Managers also devoted more time to their employee with ASD on a day-to-day basis. Another important theme was how managers had to pay attention to the way they communicated information and instructions to their employee with ASD. This change in the manager’s behavior led to improvement in their communication skills towards their other employees. To improve the performance of their employee with ASD, managers selected the context they perceived to be a better fit such as shifts when they were fewer customers or when colleagues that were more flexible were present. Most managers had a personal motivation, outside of their work environment, to hire an employee with ASD, such as knowing a person with ASD or the desire to participate in a project that had a social impact. The employment specialist support was instrumental in understanding the employee with ASD and their behaviour, and in resolving issues. The employment specialists provided support to improve the productivity of the individuals with ASD to achieve a sufficient level of work performance. These results felt gratifying for the managers that perceived themselves as better supervisors.
Conclusions: Employment specialists offer essential services to managers to become successful in supervising individuals with ASD. Theses specialists can explain the needs of this population and offer strategies to communicate, preventing and resolving issues related to the ASD in the workplace. Understanding the experience of managers of employees with ASD helps create better services aimed at supporting adults with ASD in long-term employment. Future research should include managers whose experience was negative (e.g., the employee was fired) in order to further our understanding of the experience of managers supervising employees with ASD.